Shelburne County group, native son receive human rights awards
Recognition presented to Eric Smith and South End Environmental Injustice Society
A community group and a former Shelburne County resident were among the recipients of the 2018 Nova Scotia Human Rights Awards on Dec. 10 in Halifax.
Eric Smith, of Halifax, received an award for his advocacy towards the protection of people with HIV/AIDS and those within the 2SLGBTIQ+ community from discrimination in the workplace. The South End Environmental Injustice Society (SEED), of Shelburne, was recognized for its advocacy against environmental racism and promotion of education on the issue.
Smith was forced from his job as an elementary teacher on Cape Sable Island in the 1980s after it became public that he had tested HIV positive.
“Eric Smith knew at a very young age that he was ‘different,’ and feels he was blessed to grow up in a family who provided him with a safe place to explore that difference,” reads his award biography. “With three younger sisters he became an early feminist. He taught school for nine years. He served as chair of the local home and school and president of the teachers union local. Eric tested positive for HIV in 1986; his status became public in 1987. Forced from his job, he became an HIV/AIDS and queer activist.”
The biography notes that he served on the N.S. Task Force on AIDS and that the resulting recommendations influenced government, education and legal policies.
“Eric helped establish the N.S. Persons with AIDS Coalition in 1988, served on the board and as chair, and served on the N.S. Advisory Committee on AIDS,” the biography reads, noting he’s taken part in an estimated 400 presentations and workshops over the years.
“Having lost over 550 friends to AIDS, I hope that my advocacy work has in some way helped to honour their memories,” said Smith, who is also a recipient of the Canada 125 medal and the Darlene Young Community Hero Award.
Formed several years ago, the South End Environmental Injustice Society (SEED) is “confident in their stand and determination to bring to light and alter racist acts that made it seem acceptable to place hazardous landfills in black communities,” reads the biography about the group, and are “speaking out and working with other groups to improve the health of the black community in Shelburne south end.”
SEED is currently involved in a two-year applied research project into water quality issues in the Shelburne African Nova Scotia community. The project is being led by Nova Scotia Community College (NSCC) research scientist Dr. Etienne Mfoumou and his Engineered Technologies Applied Research Team. Acadia University, Dalhousie University through ENRICH (Environmental Noxiousness, Racial Inequities & Community Health) and Rural Water Watch are also involved in the study.
“We must become a part of a new model of clean environment and promote health in all communities and we must do it now,” said SEED president Louise Delisle about the group’s award.
Each year, the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission recognizes Nova Scotians nominated by their peers for work in the field of human rights, social justice and advocacy.
Louise Delisle, centre, and Mary Manning, right, from the South End Environmental Injustice Society are pictured with Vishal Bhardwaj, a commissioner with the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission.