Two options were given to Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman the day Maclean's declared Winnipeg the most racist city in the Canada: confront it head-on or dismiss it altogether.

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This article was published 6/10/2016 (1882 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Two options were given to Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman the day Maclean's declared Winnipeg the most racist city in the Canada: confront it head-on or dismiss it altogether.

Friends and outside observers told him that day in January 2015 he should attack the messenger, he told the audience Thursday morning during his keynote address at Deloitte 360, a series of conferences across Canada on business issues.

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Mayor Brian Bowman gives the keynote address to some 200 business and government leaders attending the Deloitte 360 event at the Delta Winnipeg hotel Thursday morning. </p>

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Mayor Brian Bowman gives the keynote address to some 200 business and government leaders attending the Deloitte 360 event at the Delta Winnipeg hotel Thursday morning.

Instead, Bowman said, he chose "unity over division" and held a press conference the day the article was published confronting the issue directly alongside several indigenous leaders.

"It was a painful moment for Winnipeg; it was a painful moment for me," he said.

The organizers of the conference series asked him to speak of that fateful day, Bowman told reporters after his keynote address.

"It is not uncommon for politicians faced with that scenario to simply attack the messenger," he said.

"There were things and characterizations about Winnipeg we could have challenged. In my view that wouldn't have allowed us to have the opportunity this year to really focus on trying to do a better job to combat racism."

Bowman said people told him that day to find a diversion or just stay in his office.

"I didn't believe it was the right thing to do," he said.

The theme for Thursday's speech was reconciliation. Bowman implored the business crowd to recruit more indigenous youth and invest in indigenous businesses.

The city was hit with new criticism Wednesday in a New York Times article highlighting the striking juxtaposition of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights and Winnipeg's racial and social divide on display just outside its doors.

Bowman said he hadn't read the article, which took the museum to task for soft-pedalling Canada's dark history with its First Nations.

"What can I say is the purpose of the museum is to engage and provoke and to get people talking about these issues and that is the same thing I am trying to do in the year of reconciliation," he said.

The newspaper interviewed local indigenous leaders and human-rights groups and notes there is not a "single exhibit highlight the subjugation of indigenous peoples" within the walls of the $351 million museum. Rather, the narrative is woven throughout several broader exhibits on the fight for justice.

"What we’re seeing in the museum reflects a fundamental problem in Canada," Craig Benjamin, an indigenous-rights campaigner for Amnesty International told the Times. "Canada has long turned a blind eye to extreme violations of indigenous people’s rights. The national conversation about the depths of the crime — and the urgency of redress — is only just beginning to happen."

The article makes reference to the museum's failure to mention that the water flowing through its reflecting pools comes from Shoal Lake 40, the First Nation source of Winnipeg’s drinking water since the construction of an aqueduct in 1919, which effectively cut off the northwestern Ontario community from the mainland and has been under a boil water advisory for almost 20 years.

"(The museum) can never be all people want it to be," Maureen Fitzhenry, a CMHR spokeswoman told the New York Times.

On Thursday, museum vice-president of public affairs and programs Angela Cassie said the article was fair, but some of the comments were from people connected with the museum prior to its opening

"They've gone back and talked to people who were here two to three years ago," she said. "Since we've opened our doors, people are getting a better understanding and are having their eyes opened for the first time on many issues."

She said the aboriginal content is "a starting point."

"We have more to do," she said. "We will add and we will deepen our content. It's an evolution."

And drawing international attention to the museum and its treatment of such issues is a good thing, she said.

"The role of the museum is to facilitate these difficult conversations," she said. "We'll continue to grapple with this difficult issue."

kristin.annable@freepress.mb.ca