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This article was published 11/12/2014 (2037 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
As hundreds of First Nations chiefs gather in this city, an extraordinary Winnipeg Police Board demand to improve the protection of indigenous women is overshadowing an even more remarkable Winnipeg Police Service response.
Last week, the police board approved a motion to "better protect" indigenous women and girls from violence and exploitation and strengthen "activities targeted at solving cases" of the missing and murdered.
This was a significant moment for Winnipeg's police board, a municipal institution that remains in its infancy. By demanding better protection, the police board implied the Winnipeg Police Service isn't doing enough.
That could be taken as fair comment, given the police's failure to prevent the murder of Tina Fontaine, the missing Anishinabe teen who eluded the grasp of a social worker and was let go by police in separate incidents on the same fateful August day.
Notwithstanding this high-profile tragedy, police typically take offence to the suggestion they don't care about the well-being of the indigenous community or invest less energy and resources toward solving cases of missing and murdered First Nations, Métis or Inuit women and girls.
Police Chief Devon Clunis has often insisted his officers treat every crime the same, regardless of the ethnic background of the victim or survivor.
That's why it was remarkable to see Clunis accept a Winnipeg Police Board recommendation that strongly suggested otherwise last week.
He did so without reservations, effectively saying "please and thank you" to the police board with the well-rehearsed sincerity of an experienced politician.
Clunis then walked out of the committee and plainly declared changes to police practices won't afford better protection to indigenous women and girls.
"This is a community issue. This is not just a police issue," Clunis told reporters. "As a police service it won't only be about responding to calls on this issue... we need to do more as a community."
The police chief then explained all the policing in the world won't eliminate the social conditions that place Winnipeg's indigenous residents at greater risk of violence than other citizens.
Clunis then went to a place no politician ever goes: He evoked the need for more Winnipeggers to be aware of the legacy of colonial history and the concept of white privilege without actually using those divisive terms.
"The current situation we see many indigenous individuals in is part of a past. We have to have that difficult conversation and say 'what's happened in the past' and what we're seeing is a reflection of the past in the current context, so what do we need to rectify that," Clunis said.
"We need to have those conversations. I think sometimes people simply feel (indigenous) people choose to be a drunk on Main Street or they choose to be involved in the sex trade. No. We need to have those specific conversations and say why those individuals are living in those conditions."
Clunis also suggested the "affluence some of us are experiencing" is the result of a colonial past that began with the acquisition of indigenous lands and the attempted assimilation of the indigenous population.
Clunis is correct: This is not a comfortable conversation. There remain many unwilling to confront the modern legacy of an unpleasant past.
That legacy is an indigenous community that remains more likely to be more impoverished, in poorer health and at greater risk of violence than other Winnipeggers.
This is an objective fact. It can't be denied. Yet there are many Winnipeggers who chafe at the idea there is such a thing as white privilege.
In this city, white privilege does not just mean non-indigenous people are more likely to find better jobs, reside in nicer homes and live out longer lives in this city.
In Winnipeg, white privilege means not having to go to sleep at night worrying your daughter is more likely to be raped and murdered simply because she is indigenous. It really is that ugly and that simple.
What Clunis is trying to do, in his unusually diplomatic way, is drive home this unpleasant reality.
Whether he or any other human has the power to radically transform this city into a less ethnically divided place is unknown.
But it's important everyone -- including a police board demanding action -- understands Winnipeg's police chief believes societal cohesion, not police activities, will better protect indigenous women and girls.
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