New coalition will celebrate and advocate for Black northerners, group chairperson says

A new Black advocacy group, BACupNORTH, has a mission to tackle systemic racism and dismantle barriers to equity in law enforcement, justice, health, housing, education, research and media.

BACupNORTH is pressing for reform in justice, workplaces, schools

People march past the RCMP detachment in Yellowknife during a protest against anti-Black racism in June. (Avery Zingel/CBC)

In June, Yellowknifers filled the streets to protest anti-Black racism. Now, months later, their grief and rage mobilized an organization that will advocate for and celebrate Black northerners.

"This is the first time I am seeing something like this — the Black community come together and throw their support behind an initiative that will go a long way to expose some of the issues here that we face as Black people in the North," said Ambe Chenemu, chairperson of Black Advocacy Coalition (BACupNORTH) and one of its founders.

Its mission is to end racism and dismantle barriers to equity in law enforcement, justice, health, housing, education, research and media. 

BACupNORTH a 'new found love'

(Submitted by BACupNORTH)

There had always been conversations about the unique challenges facing Black northerners but until then, Chenemu said there had not been a visible Black rights movement of that scale in the North. 

"We're very excited, quite frankly. It's like a new found love, a new found place, identity that we have. And we're really soaking in it and enjoying it," said Chenemu.

Chenemu was a speaker at the Yellowknife rally, which was prompted by global Black Lives Matter demonstrations after a Minneapolis police officer killed George Floyd.

In Canada, people marched over anti-Black racism and police-involved deaths like that of Regis Korchinski-Paquet, a Black Indigenous woman who died in west Toronto.

"When I finished [speaking], I thought, this shouldn't be it. We can't just go out every time and protest, you know, and then go home. What can we do that will have a long lasting impact, to change the status quo of what we're protesting for?"

Yellowknifers marched to the RCMP detachment in June to rally against anti-Black racism. Chenemu says the new organization needs the support of Indigenous communities. (Avery Zingel/CBC)

After the protests, the current executive of BACupNORTH worked out a "meaningful" vision that "speaks to our community as a whole," he said.

"We really found out about the richness in our community, but also the challenges that we face individually from a different ethnicity," he said.

"Whether you're Caribbean, whether you have African heritage, whether you're African-Canadian, whatever that means to you, our organization will find this space to celebrate that heritage and put it out there." 

BACupNORTH will be a 'union' for Black northerners

The coalition will advocate for Black-run businesses, hold authorities accountable and offer assistance to Black workers who lack proper representation because their union is not attuned to systemic anti-Black racism, says Chenemu.

"Look at the Black Advocacy Coalition in terms of the government lens as a union for Black people," said Chenemu.

"They know that there's a community, there's an organization behind them that will support them and be with them through whatever process they're going through."

Celebrating diversity, educating for progress

The coalition will look at the materials young Black people are consuming in schools and push for changes to school curriculum and media, where there is poor representation of Black experiences and history.

A woman holds up the names in memorial of Black people who have died during police interactions. (Avery Zingel/CBC)

"We're looking at empowering our community, sharing our stories of experiences, making clear those stereotypes that people have about the Black community which means educating about ourselves, our culture, our heritage, our diversity," he said. 

It was not until the murder of George Floyd that CBC began to spend more time on Black stories, he said.

"I hope CBC is able to start thinking about giving us that space and room to communicate our experience and be able to participate meaningfully in this community, because really the media is the voice of the people and we can only speak as loud as we use the resources that we have."

Indigenous solidarity critical to movement's success

At the anti-Black racism protest in June, Indigenous people showed up in solidarity and Chenemu says that kind of alliance with Indigenous communities is part of their mandate. 

The killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police renewed a global conversation about anti-Black racism, with protests emerging in Yellowknife, Hay River, Fort Smith, Inuvik and Iqaluit. (Avery Zingel/CBC)

"There is no way our organization will succeed without the support of … Indigenous communities," Chenemu explained.

"Some of the things that we advocate for as a Black organization are a reality for a lot of Indigenous peoples. We are seeing that working together and coming together with the resources that we have in both our communities is very powerful."

BACupNORTH will start small, expand across North

The organization will initially focus its efforts within the N.W.T. and build membership across Northern communities, to Yukon, Nunavut, Northern Manitoba and Northern Ontario, he said. 

For now, the group is accessible by Facebook, but will soon post opportunities to volunteer along with information on how to become a member or partner on its website. 

They're looking to work with businesses, organizations and the government to sustain their advocacy work.

"We need to be able to be around to do the work that is important for the Black community," he said. "We're here to work with people, we're here to partner up to work, to collaborate, to work through issues, not just brouhaha." 

Despite COVID-19, the organization is beginning to plan in-person events to mark Black History Month this February. 

BACupNORTH chairman Ambe Chenemu says the conversation on equity for Black people has to exist beyond an individual protest. (Avery Zingel/CBC News)

"We should have done this a long time ago. It did not have to take a lot of Black people, even, quite frankly, Indigenous people in our community for us to be able to rally ourselves together and get here," said Chenemu.

"But, hey, we're here now and we're happy to be here and very excited to see Black people come together … for the first time I have seen that happen here in the North," he said. "There is no better time to be here than now."

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.