Social justice is one of First United’s core values. We’re committed to combatting the oppression and marginalization of racialized folks. As an organization that serves a diverse community and has a large portion of staff that identifies as BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of colour), we know that racism is very much still present and impacts the lives of BIPOCs daily. 

While Juneteenth is an American holiday that marks the end of slavery in the U.S., it’s still a day that we can observe here in Canada. Despite popular belief, Canada does have a history of slavery, going back to the early 1600s. It wasn’t until 1834 that slavery was abolished by British Parliament, when the Slavery Abolition Act took effect for British colonies. This day (August 1, 1834) is now known as Emancipation Day in Canada, but was only designated by Canadian Parliament in 2021.

While Emancipation Day commemorates the abolition of slavery in Canada, Juneteenth is still a significant day for many Black Canadians across the country. First United Case Planner Stephanie Kallstrom wrote a blog post on why we should celebrate Juneteenth and how people who are not Black can observe the day.

Juneteenth also known as Black Independence Day and Jubilee Day

Guest post by Stephanie Kallstrom, Case Planner, FIRST UNITED

It’s the day when Black slaves were legally freed in the United States, two and a half years after Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. But the intent of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation was not to free all enslaved peoples. The Emancipation Proclamation only freed enslaved people in states that were seeking to pull away from the Union and which later became the Confederacy. The Emancipation Proclamation did not abolish the system of slavery, rather Lincoln was implementing economic warfare on the States that were seceding.

The news of the Emancipation Proclamation didn’t reach all Black people immediately. There was a conscious effort to ignore the order in some states. On June 19, 1865, Union soldiers in Galveston, Texas announced that the Civil War was over, and all slaves were now free. It marks the end of white people profiting off Black bodies and should also serve as a reminder that Black bodies built America. That’s why it took a full two and a half years to free all slaves. Juneteenth is important because June 19, 1865 marked when all slavery of Black bodies was abolished in all States.

Juneteenth is a time to celebrate and elevate Black people. We are living in a world that is still full of systemic racism and oppression. We are watching our people die at a greater rate due to various forms of racism such as medical racism, systemic racism in policing, etc.

In the last two years the world has woken up and realized that Black liberation isn’t complete. Often the public is quick to jump on the trend of saying Black Lives Matter but forgets about us when the trend fades away. I hope to see Black liberation completed in my lifetime, but I know that to be a far-fetched dream. There is so much work that needs to be done, and whether it is unwillingness or revolt, the process is moving incredibly slowly.

Juneteenth, however, is a time where we can celebrate dance, eat, play music, hold parades, gather, and have a good time. It’s a time where we can be joyous and teach younger generations the beauty of being Black. Others can support Black people by shopping at Black-owned businesses, eating at Black-owned restaurants, dismantling white supremacy and being anti-racist.

Happy Juneteenth! Let’s celebrate!

Official Juneteenth poem “We Rose” by Kristina Kay. Image from:

Ways that people who are not Black can observe Juneteenth:

  1. Learn more about Juneteenth and the history of slavery in the United States and Canada
  2. Learn how anti-Black racism exists in Canada
  3. Share what you’re learning (from reputable sources) with friends and family
  4. Learn how we can do our part to support our Black neighbours
    • Donate to Black-owned organizations that help combat systemic racism
    • Support Black-owned businesses in your area

We hope you’ll join us in observing Juneteenth! The links above are not a comprehensive list but we hope it will be a good place to start.

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