Winnipeg a leader in fixing Canada’s racism problem

Appears to be a concerted, community-wide effort. Encouraging:

Declaring 2016 the “Year of Reconciliation” for Winnipeg, he announced a host of new initiatives aimed at combatting racism, including mandatory training for all city staff on the impact of residential schools, a promise to visit every Winnipeg high school to address diversity, and a program to foster public engagement in reconciliation. It is a kind of commitment to the issue of racism never before seen by a civic leader in Winnipeg, and one that civic leaders say has propelled Winnipeg to the forefront of the issue in Canada, as other cities begin the tough work of reconciliation.

“On that day [a year ago], this community chose to come together to recognize the existence of racism, and that we needed to work together to better address it,” Bowman said. “On that day, we chose unity over division. We responded to the Maclean’s article with honesty and humility. We knew we could not, and cannot, mend the profound wrongs and injustices of generations and centuries in one year, with a single summit or press conference. But I remain committed to the journey.”

Photograph by John Woods

Photograph by John Woods

Numerous Indigenous speakers and community leaders at the press conference announced forthcoming projects, like St. John’s High School student Sylas Parenteau, who talked about an upcoming march for diversity by 3,000 Winnipeg School Division students, continuing the anti-racism work the division undertook in the last year. Far from a top-down effort, “we’ve been able to drive this conversation down to the individual level, where it really needs to occur,” Bowman said.

Bowman addressed a packed, second-floor foyer at City Hall. Seated with him were many of the same people who stood shoulder-to-shoulder with him last year. Michael Champagne, of Aboriginal Youth Opportunities, and founder of Meet Me at the Belltower, led a smudge; a local imam led a prayer. Proceedings were briefly interrupted by a Somali mother who told media she hasn’t seen her children in the six years since they were allegedly taken by Winnipeg Child and Family Services (CFS). Rather than being promptly frogmarched out by security, she was embraced by Ojibwe elder Randi Gage, and promised an audience with Bowman; Clunis, the police chief, wrapped an arm around her husband’s shoulder. Justice Murray Sinclair, head of the Truth and Reconciliation

Commission, addressed the controversy, acknowledging the “validity” of her concerns, which mirror those many Indigenous people feel toward CFS. “They are an example of what this day is all about—the sense of injustice so many feel about the way that they are treated by society, and their inability to be able to express themselves in a full way, to be able to achieve their ambitions in being part of this nation.”

There were critics of last year’s article in the room at City Hall, too; it remains deeply controversial in the city. But some, like radio host Charles Adler, who found the thrust of it “incredibly insulting,” admitted it ultimately “forced all of us to look into our souls,” and see the problem for what it was: “a human dignity issue,” threatening the future of the city. Instead of racism, Adler, who hosted Bowman’s press conference last week, believes Winnipeg will one day become known as “the capital of reconciliation.”

“At the very foundation of attacking racism there are two things we need to think about,” said Sinclair, a member of Bowman’s new Indigenous advisory circle: “What is it that our leaders are saying? And what is it that our leaders are doing? And to that, I say: Look around. Look at what our mayor has done. Look at the fact that our mayor has stood up, has embraced the ambition of trying to address it in a way that all people of this city are comfortable with who they are, are comfortable with a sense of their future, of who they can be in this society.”

Source: Winnipeg a leader in fixing Canada’s racism problem

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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