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Black on the Prairies website features Black contributions to Alberta

By Kimberly Taylor, July 4 2024—

Black on the Prairies is a website featuring Black individuals’ contributions to Canada’s prairies. Dr. Patrina Duhaney — associate professor in the Faculty of Social Work at the University of Calgary — spoke about her involvement with the website in an interview with the Gauntlet.

Duhaney shared that the website grew out of her experience with the Black Leadership Program on Stephen Avenue which mentored 23 Black youth.

“We wanted to engage folks walking around that storefront that we were situated doing our youth leadership program. We had this brilliant idea to have two TV screens in front of the storefront [for] people walking by. We thought this was a way to engage because this was happening around Stampede. What are some ways in which we can engage the community to show that Black people are also contributing to the fibre of Alberta society?”

As a member of the anti-Black racism taskforce, Duhaney shared that one of their goals is to inform people about Black contributions to society.

“Once we share this on the TV screen, how can they access this information? We thought having this on the website so they can read up more on the Black individuals we were featuring was also critical. So we thought we could house this information. People are curious. We want to make sure they know where they could find additional information if they wish.”

In terms of the Stampede, Duhaney spoke about her experience learning about Stampede after moving to Calgary.

“Stampede was all about celebrating the West. Celebrating western heritage, cultures, communities. From what I’ve seen, chuckwagons and races and shows and exhibits and cowboys and horses. Considered one of the largest rodeos. Well attended by over a million people.”

Duhaney also highlighted the critiques around Stampede.

“One of the things that was really interesting is the negative connotations that are associated with Stampede that people seldom talk about. Some folks have critiqued Stampede. There’s actually a book written on Stampede, they look at it as this western frontier where Black, Indigenous and racialized people’s presence has been largely ignored.”

Duhaney explained that combining these critiques with the curiosity of people walking by the Stephen Avenue storefront hosting the Black leadership program inspired the anti-Black racism task force to create resources about historical Black contributions to Alberta.

“It was important for us to demystify this whole notion that Stampede is only about celebrating white culture and white western culture to be specific. With this project we wanted to highlight black people’s presence in Alberta, not only their presence but also their contributions,” Duhaney continued. “One of the things that we did, we talked about Black cowboys. But in the video we also highlighted different individuals who were around at that time, the early 1900’s. There were a few people that we highlighted.”

Duhaney shared a few of the historical figures she discovered doing research for the project —  John Ware and his family, Stewart Alexander Grant, the Amber Valley Baseball team, and Herbert Darby.

“There were so many people at the time who were contributing to society, they played important roles, but they are not in history books. If we want to find them we have to dig really deep,” Duhaney said. “As a Black academic and researcher, I find that there is so much that I need to learn as a Black individual.”

Duhaney said she hopes people will engage with the Black on the Prairies website and other sources of information on Black individuals and their contributions.

“Having an appreciation for the ways in which Black people have struggled and continue to struggle to have a place in society ensures that we are creating spaces that are inclusive so that Black people feel welcomed and they can feel heard. The biggest thing is to think that Stampede is more than white cultures and white communities and white knowledge. I think it’s really important for us to celebrate various racialized groups and various communities.”

 For more information about Black contributions, visit the Black on the Prairies website.

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