July 9, 2020

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Winnipeg mayor ready to face racism 'head on'

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 22/1/2015 (1995 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Mayor Brian Bowman‎ affirmed the city's commitment to confront ethnic divisions at an unprecedented press conference in response to a magazine article declaring Winnipeg the most racist city in Canada.

The cover story in the latest issue of Maclean's, authored by former Winnipegger Nancy Macdonald, examines the casual and institutional racism afflicting indigenous residents of the city. It cites Winnipeg's ethnic divisions as the worst in Canada.

The story was first published online Wednesday night. ‎On Thursday over the noon hour, Bowman - the city's first indigenous mayor - gathered more than three dozen city officials, councillors, educators and indigenous leaders outside his office and declared Winnipeg will confront its ethnic divide.

"We're here together to face this head on, as one community," Bowman in the foyer outside his office, following a smudge inside his office.

Derek Nepinak, grand chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs‎, said there are people who are "willfully blind" to the challenges faced by indigenous Winnipeggers and lauded community activists who get up every morning and challenge racism.

Manitoba treaty commissioner Jamie Wilson noted his home reserve of Opaskwayak Cree Nation and The Pas came together after national media cited the communities as the most racist in Canada.

Winnipeg Police Chief Devon Clunis reaffirmed the need for Winnipeg to engage in a "difficult conversation" about its ethnic chasm, while former Canadian grand chief Ovide Mercredi spoke of confronting ‎racism without becoming bitter.

Mayor Brian Bowman addresses the media regarding racism in Winnipeg. He was joined by members from across the community including; Grand Chief Derek Nepinak, Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, Jamie Wilson, Treaty Commissioner, Treaty Relations Commission of Manitoba, Police Chief Devon Clunis, President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Manitoba, Dr. Annette Trimbee, President and Vice Chancellor at the University of Winnipeg, Michael Champagne and Althea Guiboche amongst others.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Mayor Brian Bowman addresses the media regarding racism in Winnipeg. He was joined by members from across the community including; Grand Chief Derek Nepinak, Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, Jamie Wilson, Treaty Commissioner, Treaty Relations Commission of Manitoba, Police Chief Devon Clunis, President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Manitoba, Dr. Annette Trimbee, President and Vice Chancellor at the University of Winnipeg, Michael Champagne and Althea Guiboche amongst others.

Oddly, given the focus on missing and murdered indigenous women, no women spoke at the event.

Bowman concluded by noting Winnipeg will not end racism tomorrow, but must try anyway.

Tearing up, he noted his wife is of Ukrainian descent and he is Métis and hopes his kids are just as proud of both.

After the press conference, Bowman said it was important ‎to seize on the Maclean's story as an opportunity to address Winnipeg's problems.

When asked why do that when Winnipeg media do so on an almost daily basis, he said it was an important ‎story that moved him personally.

Article points to numerous racist incidents

Maclean’s builds its story around the horrific murder of Tina Fontaine, the 15-year-old aboriginal girl whose body was found wrapped in plastic and thrown in the Red River in August of last year. There have been no arrests in the killing and the case continues to serve as a key edge in the community’s simmering racial divide.

"One woman said a week doesn’t go by that she isn’t harassed walking downtown, that someone doesn’t call her a stupid squaw or tells her to go back to the (reservation), honks at her or offers her money for sex," author Macdonald said in an online preview interview. "People will tell you they feel racial profiling by police; they feel they’re not treated fairly in hospitals. It’s a really deep issue.

"From there, we went to Winnipeg and realized there is a huge degree of racism that aboriginal people in the city face," Macdonald says in the video.

The Maclean’s article points out that Winnipeg’s reputation has taken a severe hit over the last few months, detailing a number of reported incidents in the city over the last five months of 2014.

There was Kelvin High School teacher Brad Badiuk, now on unpaid leave as the investigation into Facebook postings Badiuk made about indigenous people continues. Rinelle Harper, a teenage aboriginal girl, was found on the banks of the Assiniboine River after she had been badly beaten. Former councilor Gord Steeves, in the middle of a mayoral race, had his campaign come off the rails after Facebook comments his wife Lorrie made about aboriginal people came to light.

In a description of Winnipeg that remarkably spans only a handful of months, the examples of racism build in the Maclean’s piece to uncomfortable levels. There was an incident where Inuk throat singer Tanya Tagaq, the 2014 Polaris Prize winner, was sexually harassed by a man in downtown Winnipeg in October. Poll after poll came out, painting a picture of not only Winnipeg as a racist community, but a city that fully recognizes the issue.

On top of those numbers, the results of the Brian Sinclair inquest were released over this stretch of time, as well, offering possible explanations on how an aboriginal man could be left to die in a hospital emergency room for 34 hours.

The future has yet to be written, though, and while the article positions Winnipeg in an less-than-desirable light thanks to its deep racial and cultural divide, the situation appears to be turning around.

Bowman's election earns mention, as does the work of former mayoral candidate, and now federal hopeful, Robert Falcon-Ouellette and of Jamie Wilson, who currently serves as treaty commissioner for the province.

"I see a real opportunity right now – with the level of engagement over these very serious and difficult issues – to make a difference," Bowman told Maclean’s in the article. "If my own family’s heritage can assist in building bridges in various communities in Winnipeg, then that’s an opportunity I fully intend on leveraging. I want to do everything I can."

Wilson told Maclean’s that Fontaine’s death was the tipping point in the racism conversation in Winnipeg.

"You couldn’t deny it anymore," he said. "Right now, we’re stuck in a trap. We’re going to have to acknowledge it. Or it will forever hold us back."

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History

Updated on Thursday, January 22, 2015 at 11:07 AM CST: Adds video

12:00 PM: Writethru.

12:10 PM: Adds video box

12:27 PM: Adds information about press conference

1:39 PM: Amends headline, adds photo

1:46 PM: Adds video

2:28 PM: Adds details from press conference

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