Reporting on race from the Prairies

RISE Apr 26, 2021

By Leo Bui 

This year’s Rise conference will have the participation of journalists across the country. Among them are journalists from the Canadian Prairies. And they are eager to share with us their unique stories and special projects in the region.

Omayra Issa is a CBC reporter in Saskatchewan. She covered the Black Lives Matter movement in Saskatoon. Several Black Lives Matter-related protests took place in the city last year, with the single largest attendance amounting to 4,000. It was the biggest protest in the history of Saskatoon. “It was the multi-generational protest, multi-ethnic, multicultural. It was definitely a turning point,” said Issa.

That galvanized her into doing a project that explores the history and present lives of Black people in the Prairie Provinces.

“I was hearing a lot from members of the audience who wanted to have more context and more history around those movements. And the idea to do something that was a bit larger than that [came],” Issa said.

The project is called Black on the Prairies. It is co-created by CBC Radio host Ify Chiwetelu. The project will launch on April 26th. 

Black on the Prairies aims to commemorate over 200 years’ legacy of the Black presence in the Prairies. The project is a single website that has a lot of different elements. It is a collection of personal essays, photography, audio and journalistic pieces. The exploration is around five themes: migration, work, Black and Indigenous relations, resistance and future.

The topic of migration will explore the emergence and movement of Black community in the Prairies. 

The work topic is on the contribution of the Black community to the economy of Prairies Provinces.

The topic of resistance and future looks not only at the recent Black Lives Matter movement, but also learns more about the past resistance. And how that has shaped, and will shape the Black identity. 

The future topic will discuss in depth the identity of Black people in the Prairies. “We have some audio pieces where you’ll hear people, a variety of voices, share their vision of life in the future,” Chiwetelu said. “And I also think if you take in the whole project perhaps there’s an invitation to think about what does [the past stories] mean? What does that change moving to the future?”

As for Black and Indigenous relations, Issa says they will explore in more detail, the relationship between the two communities.

“Relationships between Black and Indigenous people go way back. Some of the very early Black people on the Prairies have been Indigenous language translators. The space that is now known as the Prairies has had Black people for more than 200 years. And in that history and that long period there has been contact and kinship, and relationships, and community building, and ways of resistance as well along each other,” said Issa.

Issa will talk more about the project at Rise Conference on April 30th. Alongside her, journalists Tomi Ajele, Lenard Monkman and Omar Mosleh will be there to talk about their experiences reporting in the Canadian Prairies as journalists of color, their challenges as well as success and how reporting on race in this region can be improved. Sandra Batson of CBC Edmonton will moderate what is sure to be a lively conversation.


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