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This article was published 18/4/2016 (404 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Downtown stores are offering a bigger welcome to indigenous people.
Downtown Winnipeg BIZ and its Aboriginal Peoples' Advisory Committee are inviting businesses to install decals with the word "welcome" in different indigenous languages — Ojibwe, Cree, Dene, Michif, Dakota and Inuktitut — in addition to English and French.
"The aboriginal community (in Winnipeg) has seven incredible languages and there’s fear of that language being lost," said Stefano Grande, executive director of Downtown Winnipeg BIZ.
After unveiling the decals and placing the first one on a window at Portage Place Shopping Centre Monday, Downtown Winnipeg BIZ hosted a workshop called Lunch and Learn to help business owners learn more about historical and current issues indigenous people face.
"We don’t want businesses just putting up the decal," Grande said. "We’ve heard from other advisers that this is necessary, that we play this educational role. This is the first of many Lunch and Learns that we’ll be holding over the summer with the business community and using this decal as the bridge to celebrate our aboriginal community."
The decals project is one of a number of initiatives the BIZ has taken on since the formation of the advisory committee about two and a half years ago, Grande said. Those include indigenous gardens celebrating traditional herbs and plants and the addition of more indigenous performers at downtown events.
Lisa Meeches is a member of the advisory committee and also the executive director of the Manito Ahbee Festival, which celebrates indigenous culture. Meeches said this shows downtown is opening its doors to Indigenous people — something that hasn’t always happened in the past.
"I think it’s welcoming to a certain demographic, to a certain income bracket, but not everybody feels that way," Meeches said. "We’ve seen and heard things that have happened in the downtown area that are not so pretty. Our job as a committee is to create that understanding."
Meeches also said this initiative is another gateway to make Winnipeg a welcoming place for everybody.
"Whether you’re Somali or Korean, Winnipeg is a place of honour and we don’t stop here with the Indigenous languages," Meeches said.
"This is just a nice beginning because it is the year of reconciliation and we all know that we’ve been up against things. We all know that the playing field hasn’t been even. You can’t heal something unless you know what the problem was, otherwise the problems just going to perpetuate and come back."
Meeches said she hopes other Canadian cities look to Winnipeg for inspiration on how to approach reconciliation. She also commended our city for the changes in attitude it’s made toward indigenous people over the last few years.
"We’re on the cusp of something so beautiful," she said. "I want my fellow indigenous relatives from other provinces to see what we’re doing but also to challenge other cities to do something quite similar. I’m going to Calgary in a few weeks. I hope I see something like this. I hope when I land I see a reflection of our community in a really welcoming way and a way that is honoured by non-Indigenous folks as well. I’ve got to say, bar none, we’ve got everybody beat."
More than 80 businesses have already agreed to put the decals in their storefront windows. The initiative is linked to the fourth principle outlined in a report from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, which states: "Reconciliation requires constructive action on addressing the ongoing legacies of colonialism that have had destructive impacts on aboriginal peoples’ education, cultures, and languages."