Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 18/9/2015 (2194 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
In 2006, rookie Winnipeg mayor Sam Katz invited 200 Winnipeggers to a civic brainstorming session dubbed the Winnipeg City Summit.
The two-day gathering at the Fort Garry Hotel was supposed to help Winnipeg figure out how to improve itself. Instead, it wound up taking fire for lacking any discernible agenda.
"People are excited to be here, but they can’t quite define what it is they’re excited about — and that’s exactly the point," Katz said at the time. "You can’t really learn as a group if the answer to a tough question is already written on a test."
Nine years later, another rookie Winnipeg mayor held a two-day conference aimed at improving the city. This time, there was a focus: promote inclusion in a city divided along ethnic lines, especially when it comes to the unequal quality of life experienced by indigenous versus non-indigenous Winnipeggers.
One: the Mayor’s Summit On Racial Inclusion was open to anyone who could afford the $50 ticket and some people who could not. Unlike the 2006 Winnipeg City Summit, Bowman’s event wasn’t invitation-only.
But just like Katz’s conference, the utility of Bowman’s summit remains unclear. While no Winnipeg resident with functioning eyes and ears would deny the city suffers from systemic and overt racism, a conference on the subject is bound to attract only those delegates already concerned about the ethnic chasm and committed to closing it.
If you think that’s cynical, well, don’t take it from some grizzled hack. Take it from 11-year-old Tait Palsson, who stood in front of a microphone at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights on Friday and wondered what an anti-racism summit could achieve when the only people who attend are already receptive to the message.
"People who do care are going to be interested in coming to these kinds of things," Palsson said after his mic drop-worthy question. "So it’s going to be rather difficult for people who are racist and have all these kinds of issues to come and think differently."
To be clear, Bowman’s record during the past year on the ethnic-relations file has been nothing but exemplary.
When he was sworn in, he immediately acknowledged the symbolic importance of being the first Métis leader of the capital city of a Métis-founded province. He acknowledged the city’s more-than-symbolic location in Treaty 1 territory. He later reacted decisively, not dismissively, when a Toronto publication stated what all conscious Winnipeggers already knew: this city has serious racism issues.
The desire to not just do something in response, but to be seen to be doing something, led to this week’s summit. And this is where the mayor wound up in a quagmire even he might admit was inevitable.
Who gets to come to the event? Derek Nepinak, grand chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, complained the AMC was excluded.
Other groups, put off by the $50 attendance fee and choice of venue, held their own anti-racism gathering. And then there was the didactic format of the summit, where a handful of passionate speakers addressed an audience of 375 delegates in what amounted to a series of lectures.
"There’s a reason politicians typically don’t take on these issues. It’s very difficult, of course," Bowman said during a noon-hour scrum.
"Certainly, we can all agree there’s value in the discussions."
Absolutely. But now, the mayor must wrestle with the question of what sort of tangible change will result from his two-day conference.
Measuring it won’t be easy, he said.
"One of our speakers said it best when she said ‘It’s up to each of us.’ It’s one person, one conversation at a time," Bowman said. "I think that there’s more discussion in the community than there was last Friday on this topic. And that’s a good thing."
But is it a lasting thing? What the mayor wants is nothing less than a more inclusive Winnipeg.
Back in 2006, there was some euphoria after the end of the Winnipeg City Summit. But can anyone point to a lasting legacy of that earlier mayoral summit?
"I couldn’t speak to that. I was working very hard in my practice at the time," said Bowman, explaining he was not able to attend Katz’s summit.
There’s the rub: if you didn’t go, you likely weren’t engaged. And you only went if you were engaged in the first place.
It will take more than two days and a dozen passionate speeches to end barriers to adequate education, housing, health care and employment for indigenous residents of this city.