Reparations for slavery and genocide should be used to address health inequities


As soon as I entered Elmina Castle (the dungeons) in Cape Coast in Ghana, I felt haunted by over 400 years of brutality and the enslavement and genocide of millions of African and Indigenous peoples. That violence still impacts the health of Black and Indigenous folks today.

The literal branding of Black people through mostly European state-sanctioned chattel transatlantic slavery by the Portuguese, British, French, Swedish, Dutch and Danish among others, haunted me in those dungeons. Colonialists built churches on top and below prisons, chambers, pits and caves where my ancestors were chained, branded, raped, killed and violated.

The international decade for people of African descent (2015-24), the “year of return,” encourages Africans living in the diaspora to travel back to Ghana (formerly known as the Gold Coast) to embrace their African heritage and ancestry.

As a descendant of enslaved Africans via the Caribbean, living in colonial Canada (Turtle island), and a human rights health scholar, my trip to Ghana this summer during the “year of return” was significant.

We are often asked to forget or minimize our enslavement histories through forced amnesia. But the smells of blood, sweat, terror and bones haunted me as I explored the impact of transgenerational trauma on myself and communities. These are the roots of anti-Black racism and white supremacy.

Former governor general of Canada Michaëlle Jean leaves a room at Elmina Castle in Ghana, on Nov. 29, 2006. African slaves passed through here before they were loaded onto slave ships. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Chartrand)

Presently, in the United States, presidential candidates are discussing reparations for the descendants of enslaved men and women. The proposal to research reparations for African descendants, H.R. 40, has been presented to Congress.

In Canada, health justice reparations would support the implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee’s Calls to Action and other Indigenous redress initiatives. For instance, recommendation No. 21 calls upon the federal government to provide sustainable funding for existing and new Indigenous healing centres to address the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual harms caused by residential schools, and to ensure that the funding of healing centres in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories is a priority.