black history our history

Twenty-four tonnes and well over two metres tall, a stoic, helmeted face stares out at you from amid the tropical foliage.

Twenty-four tonnes and well over two metres tall, a stoic, helmeted face stares out at you from amid the tropical foliage.

The great basalt head one of many Olmec artifacts you’ll find in the outdoor La Venta Park and Museum.

This great Mexican archeological exhibit has brought history buffs like me to the sweltering, oil city of Villahermosa, in the state of Tabasco, for decades.

The city lies just about a half an hour inland from the Bay of Campeche beyond where the Isthmus of Tehuantepec begins to swing back up towards the Yucatan peninsula.

The Olmecs hold a place of pride in Mexican history as the first of the great civilizations that arose in that land.

Most of the stele, altars, zoomorphs and heads displayed at La Venta date upwards of 1500 BC.

Arguably their beliefs influenced others like the Maya, Toltec and Aztec societies that arose after them.

Mystery surrounds the Olmecs. How did they move the huge stone monuments up to a 100 kilometres from where they were quarried — without the aid of the wheel?

Where did they draw their inspiration for the unique cosmographical story their relics tell?

Most intriguingly, do the African facial features of the large stone heads point toward early contact between distant continents?

Our history unfolds continually before our eyes. Slowly many of the blanks in the understanding of our common roots are filled in with new discoveries or new scientific techniques that allow us to look with fresh insight at old information.

The riddles posed by the Olmecs are among the many like the Kennewick Man or Monte Verde that point to much earlier and more complex contact between peoples on our planet.

Ultimately we know that we have common roots dating back to our human Eden on the plains of Africa.

A team from the University of California at Berkeley discovered the Homo sapiens idaltu, the oldest fossils of our own species yet unearthed, back in June 2003.

This ancestor found in Ethiopia, dated back to some 160,000 years ago. This find supports the results of the study of human mitochondrial DNA done in the late 1980s by Stoneking, Cann and Wilson that posited the common ‘Eve’ of all of us now, lived in Africa some 150,000 to 120,000 years ago.

The long story of how we got here from Africa has many strands but ultimately they are all linked.

Human history is as much black history as it is yellow, red or white history. The rich story of the approximately 700,000 blacks living in Canada today is our history.

From Mathieu de Coste, the black crewman and interpreter who accompanied Samuel de Champlain on his Canadian voyage of discovery, to the slave immigrants who won their freedom fighting alongside the British in the American Revolutionary War to the more than 40,000 slaves that made it to Canada via the “underground railroad,” our history has a wealth of black stories.

Maybe we should take the time to listen to them.

The Black History in the Yukon display by Yukon Archives in partnership with the Yukon Status of Women and the Yukon Human Rights Commission will be on view next week in the Yukon College library and then for another week in the Reference Room of the Yukon Archives.

After that, I hear it will be available to Yukon communities on request.

Planning for the Africa, AIDS, Action Symposium slated for the end of March is well underway.

This Yukon Development Education Centre project is being organized in conjunction with Blood Ties Four Directions, the Harness the Wave project and other Yukon groups.

It hopes to offer Yukoners not only information on this crucial concern but also concrete opportunities for action.