New project tells the story of Black rural Canadians

There is a lot to love about living in a small B.C. town.

Shayna Jones is leading the Black and Rural project

Robin Jackson, who runs a gourmet mushroom farm in East Sooke., B.C., says he loves that the local forest serves as a pantry where he can “pick a salad of wild herbs” or harvest wild mushrooms.

“I think access to food and access to nature are the two strongest things drawing me to where I live,” he said.

Jackson loves his home but acknowledges that being a Black person in rural B.C. can bring unwanted attention.

“It’s kind of interesting how, even in my own community, at least once a week I’ll be walking through the forest, minding my own business, and somebody will act startled and say, ‘Oh, do you live around here?'” he said. “Well, actually, yes, I’ve lived around here for about 13 years. This is my community.”

Jackson’s experience resonates with Shayna Jones, the creator of the Black and Rural Project, which tells the stories of Black people who live in Canada’s countryside.

The project’s goal is to share the stories of Black people in rural settings “so that we can draw courage from hearing that we are all out here living and thriving and also to help educate those around us who don’t expect to see Black bodies in rural spaces,” Jones said.

Robin Jackson

A folklorist and performance storyteller from Kaslo, B.C., Jones moved to the Kootenay mountains to escape big city life and provide her kids an opportunity to connect with the earth.

She says she wants to create a sense of belonging within the Black community and also “lay claim to my place in this town.”

“It’s been interesting to, because of my position as an artist, have a lot of conversations with people in town about these very matters, which is beautiful and uncomfortable all at the same time,” she said.

She hopes that the project can challenge the notion that Black people in North America are largely associated with urban settings.

Changing the narrative, she says, can provide “an aha moment for an urban-dwelling Black that is quite unsatisfied with the grind they are in, but never could envision themselves thriving, let alone surviving in a rural setting.”