Hope amid the hurt
As we turn the page to a new year, it’s crucial Manitobans come together to seek out and support creative solutions
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The year opened with beauty, with the gifts of the winter. It opened in sparkling snowdrifts and barren tree branches coated with silver. A wonderland, in which the light of the growing days can play: right now, Manitoba looks like the hopes we hold for each new year. A brightness, a promise, a blank page.
But despite the optimism that wraps itself around resolutions and beginnings, a new year is not a blank page. Everything we walked through over the last years is still with us; the challenges, the pressures, the debates still remain. Still, with 2023 just a newborn and its shape yet to be known, I thought I’d kick off the year with some 2023 hopes for Winnipeg.
First, a prediction: 2023 will be difficult. The global economy is fragile. Inflation and housing costs are squeezing everyone’s budgets, and food costs are skyrocketing. We know who that hurts: while grocery giant Loblaws posted a whopping increase in profits, the Christmas Cheer Board received 18,225 hamper applications this season, up over 2,000 from 2021.
Unless that pressure suddenly lets up, the need will keep growing. So here is a first hope, for the new year: in 2023, may we see those struggles as an opportunity, as a moment that demands to be seized. There can be no more looking away from the inequalities of this city, and how they shape its day-to-day. May this be the year we get serious about change.
There is reason to be hopeful. In an interview with the Free Press in late December, newly-minted mayor Scott Gillingham vowed to create a co-ordinated plan to address the humanitarian crisis in the city, an initiative that would unite Winnipeg’s patchwork supports, community groups and government agencies into a more streamlined system.
This is, without a doubt, something that is needed. Homelessness, mental health, addiction, intergenerational trauma: none of these are discrete problems. All of them weave together to push a single life to the fringes. So to help lift those lives out of crisis, the supports must also be comprehensive and interconnected. I hope such a plan takes wing in 2023.
At the same time, I hope this year is one in which we can bring more people into the care that grows from the grassroots, the efforts that can ease suffering without waiting for governments. If writing for the Free Press and seeing how readers respond to stories has taught me anything, it’s that mutual aid is intuitive. People want to help, they just need to know how.
With a little creativity, and some hard work, we can do much more to build these connections. One example: this past fall, a local collective opened the Winnipeg Community Fridge at 689 Maryland St. It’s such a simple thing: just a place where folks can leave food and hygiene supplies, so others can get what they need without any barriers.
The potential of that initiative, and others that are just now being imagined, is immense. They just need more people to get involved. And if we are facing a 2023 that threatens to push many more Winnipeggers to the brink of survival, we will need to keep seeking out and supporting creative solutions. There is enough to go around, if we make the connections.
The next hope, I save for those who are just joining us in Manitoba. Since the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine, many Ukrainians have made their way to Canada under the emergency program; we haven’t seen official numbers for how many have come to our province, but it is certainly well into the thousands.
These journeys are never easy. To build a life in a new country and in a new language is daunting. And in the Facebook groups Ukrainian newcomers use to help each other navigate this process, many report struggles finding work and finding housing; meanwhile, their skills and their talents languish, waiting for a chance to contribute fully to our community.
The same is true for people from all over the world, who come here seeking stability and safety. History has shown over and over that these difficult journeys are good for Manitoba; the province has only ever been made stronger by welcoming everyone who wants to help build its future. May this year open invitations and supports to all who seek them.
Next: as readers know, I tend to curtail my hopes for elections. Yet coming off three years of pandemic and economic chaos, the provincial election looming in October feels especially pivotal; it is the moment when we will be called to render the last verdict on how Manitoba endured the most all-encompassing crisis in generations.
So here’s hoping that the 2023 campaign is one of substance. May voters push all parties to face their past failures honestly, to identify what should have been done differently, and to articulate new visions for recovery. I have a hunch that, whatever our political affiliations, most Manitobans would agree we stand at a crossroads where we need meaningful change.
Now, a hope for 2023 that is simple on its face, though not in its depth: may this be the year that Buffalo Woman is reunited with her name. All we know about her now is that she was slain, allegedly by accused serial killer Jeremy Skibicki. We do not know who she was, when exactly she was killed, or where her body remains.
In an act of love, elders gave her the dignity of a name by which we can know her: Mashkode Bizhiki’ikwe. But the cold fact that an Indigenous woman had her life stolen, and her identity along with it, speaks of a tragedy that began long before the moment of her death. One into which she must have been born and lived, one which foments too many violent ends.
It’s too much even to hope this greater tragedy will end in a single year, but may 2023 be a year in which it continues to unravel. May it be a year in which fewer people are left so alone, and so vulnerable. A year of healing and reconciliation, and one on which we will someday look back and say: that was an important time, one which gave us strength.
Above all, may this be the year when Winnipeggers come to understand each other, and to make common cause in deciding our future. We entered the year in beauty, with a glittering reminder that wonder still thrives in the coldest days. With luck, hard work and a persistent faith, we can walk through it the same.
Melissa Martin reports and opines for the Winnipeg Free Press.