Accept that we are all in this place together
How should we mark Manitoba's 150th? Let me count the ways...
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 26/12/2018 (1616 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
With Christmas in the rear-view mirror, it’s time to start thinking about another major birthday: Manitoba’s big One-Five-O.
Earlier this year, the province announced the Countdown to Manitoba 150. A special committee was struck and tasked with planning celebrations to honour Manitoba’s 150th anniversary in 2020.
The committee, which is co-chaired by Heritage Minister Cathy Cox and Stuart Murray, former president and CEO of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights and former Manitoba PC leader, called for ideas and asked them to be sent to MB150@gov.mb.ca.
Considering how popular Canada 150 was — that was sarcasm, by the way — and the fact that Manitoba was birthed by Indigenous Peoples, I thought it best to start giving gifts early.
I put a call out on social media asking for suggestions. Here are the top 10:
• Monuments — Lots of attention has been placed on the Chief Peguis monument at the legislature, but what about honouring notable Indigenous figures who have built this province, such as Elijah Harper, Dave Courchene, Marion Meadmore or Emma LaRocque?
• An Indigenous Sites in Manitoba app — Know where the Tommy Prince monument is? Know where the Molson Lake Rock paintings are? How about Giizhigooweyaabikwe Park (incorporating the traditional name of activist Leslie Spillett)? Manitoba is a hotbed of Indigenous sites, but they are not easy for members of the public to find. This is a missed opportunity for Manitobans to see how deeply tied their communities are with Indigenous Peoples.
• Recognize the original names of our community — There are much-needed conversations taking place about the roles of complicated figures such as Bishop Grandin, but there is a need for Manitobans to understand the traditional and ancestral names of their home. How many people know that Nestawaya is the original name of The Forks, for example? How might we learn more about Winnipeg when we realize “dirty water” is actually talking about the ataagib, the algae?
• Public art — Since the 1970s, Winnipeg has been the centre for Indigenous art in Canada. The city is adorned with some of the most remarkable, savvy and political Indigenous art in North America. In 1971, Potawatomi/Odawa artist Daphne Odjig was commissioned to create a three-by-3½-metre mural titled The Creation of the World to recognize the Manitoba centennial — you can see it at the entranceway to the Manitoba Museum. It’s time for a new piece to honour Manitoba 150.
That’s the easy stuff. Here’s the transformational stuff:
• Recognize Indigenous languages as part of the official languages of Manitoba — There are seven to include: Anishinaabemowin, Cree, Dakota, Inuktitut, Dene, Michif and Oji-Cree. Think this is impossible? South Africa has 23 official languages. This act alone would make Manitoba the most interesting and historically accurate province in Canada.
• Build accessible, paved roads to every First Nation — Most know about the dangerous and life-threatening conditions of Highway 384 to Mosakahiken Cree Nation, but there are hundreds of similar areas. This is an issue of safety and affects every Manitoban directly. It’s also a statement of racism when the pavement suddenly becomes dirt.
• Declare 2020 the Year of the Indigenous Child — Indigenous children are among the most important, yet mistreated, populations in this province, suffering disproportionate violence, neglect and systemic oppression. Make it a public priority for all Manitobans. Talk about it every day. Never look at the justice system, the child-welfare system and poverty the same again.
• Give health care back to Indigenous communities — Virtually every Indigenous community does not have the infrastructure to deliver its own babies. Indigenous communities face some of the most dire health conditions and sicknesses, yet cannot legally address them. Empower local health practitioners and communities to help themselves. Oh, yeah, and deal with the egregious issue of boil-water advisories in First Nations communities.
• Commit to education — Make education about treaties, contributions by and relationships with Indigenous Peoples mandatory for all Manitoba children. Don’t leave this to school divisions to determine; it should be part of the curriculum at every level. This must come with an investment in Indigenous teachers and school administrators alongside Indigenous-centred policies for workplaces and universities.
• Live as treaty people — Treaty and land acknowledgments are good (yet slow to come at the Manitoba legislature), but this means nothing if we do not eventually talk about — and deal with — treaty violations and land theft. This is a hard conversation, I know, but if we are going to move forward, we need leadership to help the public understand that territorial and treaty acknowledgments are meant to lead us towards a just society. If not, these statements at Jets games mean little.
A huge gichi-miigwech to everyone on social media who helped make this list. I could have filled my word count with the names.
I would like to make one more request for Manitoba 150.
To accept that we are all in this place together.
This place named after the water and the Earth.
Manitowapow: the life that comes from the water.
Manito-api: the life that’s been placed on the Earth.
I want it to be clean and healthy for my children, my nieces and my nephews.
Indigenous and Canadian.
All of us.
Indinawemaganidog — all of our relations.
Niigaan Sinclair is Anishinaabe and is a columnist at the Winnipeg Free Press.