Leaders of local cultural communities want Manitoba’s largest school division to celebrate its multicultural classrooms by officially recognizing heritage months throughout the academic year.
"The most effective way to deal with differences, racism and so on, is really by talking and meeting with each other, and that’s a concept we should be promoting, I think, in all schools," said Art Miki, director of the Japanese Cultural Association of Manitoba and a member of the Asian Heritage Society of Manitoba.
Miki is among the community leaders who recently spoke in favour of a motion to have the Winnipeg School Division build on its current cultural programming to endorse all heritage and history months and weeks that are proclaimed by the province.
Raising awareness about various heritage months would build understanding between students from different communities and help marginalized students learn more about their own history, culture and language, he added.
Earlier this month, trustee Jennifer Chen, who represents families in Ward 6 of WSD, put forward a motion to have the division recognize events including Islamic History Month (October), Black History Month (February), Sikh Heritage Month (April), Asian Heritage Month (May), Filipino Heritage Month (June), and Somali Heritage Week (June 25 to July 1).
Chen’s motion, which was tabled at a board meeting Oct. 4, also called on schools to encourage involvement in both the planning of and participation in activities that celebrate the above events.
"By taking a simple step, by recognizing heritage months, it encourages our students and all school communities to feel safe and included and welcome to celebrate their culture," Chen said, adding she wants to promote the hard work students and staff already do annually to organize cultural events at schools in central Winnipeg.
The division’s most recent student demographic report, which draws on 2016 census data and was compiled in 2019-20, indicates 34 per cent of its population identifies as a visible minority.
A total of 16 per cent of division households speak a home language other than English, with the two most popular being Tagalog and Punjabi.
Per the report, English, Filipino, First Nations, German, Canadian, Ukrainian, East Indian, Polish, Métis, Scottish, and Irish are the most common ethnic origins of students.
Chen said she hopes the division will start to post about the respective events on its website and social media channels, and send bulletins about the celebrations to all staff members to encourage them to plan and organize cultural activities at school.
Jennifer Chieh Ho of the Asian Heritage Society of Manitoba and Felicia Masenu, programs director of the Bilal Community and Family Centre, have endorsed the move.
The motion was referred to the WSD board’s policy and program committee for further discussion. No turnaround timeline has been set.
Maggie Macintosh reports on education for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for the Free Press education reporter comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.