Winnipeg, like most cities in Canada, has always been a racist community. Over the decades, many groups — Jews, Poles, Ukrainians, French-Canadians, Catholics, homosexuals, the list goes on — have experienced the sting of xenophobia.

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This article was published 18/1/2016 (2106 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Editorial

Winnipeg, like most cities in Canada, has always been a racist community. Over the decades, many groups — Jews, Poles, Ukrainians, French-Canadians, Catholics, homosexuals, the list goes on — have experienced the sting of xenophobia.

Aboriginal peoples, however, were in a separate class, the ultimate outcasts in a land they inhabited for thousands of years. While other outsiders eventually found their way into mainstream acceptance, Canada’s original peoples remained on the margins.

The problem was particularly stark in Winnipeg because of the high number of First Nations people who started moving from their traditional reserves into the city after the Second World War. It wasn’t the start of a clash of civilizations — that one-sided battle began much earlier — but it was certainly the beginning of the racial divide that exists in Winnipeg today.

The city has more aboriginal people than any other Canadian city, which has naturally increased the opportunities for racial conflict.

That’s why it was no great surprise one year ago when Maclean’s magazine said Winnipeg was arguably Canada’s most racist city.

Most thoughtful Winnipeggers already knew the city had a problem with racial attitudes, even if they didn’t express it in the exceptional terms of Maclean’s magazine.

Several high-profile slayings and assaults on aboriginal women and girls in Winnipeg, the devastating revelations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and endless stories of injustice, such as First Nations communities that had no running water, had already increased awareness and generated some action long before a national magazine said the city had a problem.

The Manitoba Department of Education, for example, began developing an aboriginal curriculum for schools more than 10 years ago, incorporating instruction on treaties, residential schools and aboriginal history.

Other programs also targeted the special needs of urban aboriginal people, including housing and addictions treatment, while the judicial system has tried to follow a Supreme Court ruling that obliges courts to consider the special circumstances of aboriginal offenders.

The Maclean’s article, however, served a useful purpose because it implicitly demanded a stronger response from the entire community. It also forced Winnipeggers to examine their consciences and to challenge themselves to be more than bystanders in the struggles of aboriginal peoples.

Mayor Brian Bowman responded with a news conference and a promise to speed up efforts to fight racism, but his biggest accomplishment was a two-day seminar on racism at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.

At least it kept the conversation going, which is not unimportant.

Meanwhile, the University of Winnipeg introduced a program that requires students to take one course on aboriginal issues in order to graduate.

The new Liberal government promised to implement all the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

It is also holding an inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women. Ottawa, Manitoba and Winnipeg have also pledged to build a road to a Shoal Lake band that was cut off from the mainland when Winnipeg built its water-treatment plant 100 years ago.

These initiatives were mainly motivated by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the sense of guilt and obligation it inspired across Canada.

As for Winnipeg’s special circumstances as home to a large and growing aboriginal community, the Maclean’s article has a special resonance that should not be forgotten.

Indeed, the city’s challenge is to ensure the problem remains a major public policy priority for Canadians and for every level of government.