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'We are the roots': Original black settlers highlighting their history

Original black settlers want role in history be known

Carolyn Deborah Jenann Dobbins is working to highlight the history of Alberta’s original black settlers as part of Black History Month.

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Carolyn Deborah Jenann Dobbins is working to highlight the history of Alberta’s original black settlers as part of Black History Month.

Last year was the first time the province proclaimed Black History Month.

This year, Carolyn Deborah Jenann Dobbins hopes Albertans become more aware of the history of the province’s original black settlers.

“I’m here to represent our people, to ensure that we are acknowledged because this is Black History Month,” she said.

Dobbins and other descendants of Alberta’s black settlers were at the Edmonton Federal Building on Friday to attend ‘Albertans Celebrate Black History Month’.

She says she attended to make sure that along with recent immigrants from the African and Carribean diaspora, her people are also represented. She contends the majority of Albertans don’t really much about Alberta’s original black settlers and it’s not something people are taught in schools.

“The community at large, the government officials don’t really know that we exist, that there were black people here from the time of Confederation and when the province became a province,” Dobbins said. “We helped build the place. We are homegrown. We are the real deal. And we don’t even get acknowledged.”

Black settlers came to western Canada in the early 1900s when the Canadian government, in an effort to populate the area, promised land for anyone in the United States willing to move.

“When they got to the border they weren’t really who the government was looking for,” Dobbins said, speaking of her grandparents.

She says although the government was unsure of the incoming black settlers at first, they eventually allowed them to settle but only in remote areas.  

Dobbins’ ancestral family stayed in the small town of Wildwood. She says her father grew up to become the first black electrician in the province and her mother stayed at home and raised seven children.

She says the original settlers had to endure a lot of hardships at the hands of white people in the United States. Memories of those hardships endure.

“My mom, she hates biscuits to this day because that’s really what they gave them,” Dobbins said.  “She would never ever make biscuits at home.”

She says she wants people to be aware that Black History Month isn’t only for people who are from Africa or the Caribbean, but that there are also black Canadians who draw their ancestry to Canada’s earliest days.

“We helped develop this province, we are the roots,” she said.  

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