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Opinion

All eyes on our Métis mayor

Bowman has the attention of the nation as he begins the task of tearing down walls

For now, it's the aboriginal file that is defining Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman nationally.

JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

For now, it's the aboriginal file that is defining Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman nationally.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 25/11/2014 (1761 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

It's Monday afternoon, and Brian Bowman is in his city hall office explaining to a visitor he still hasn't framed the gift of a Goldeyes jersey Sam Katz left for him in a closet; or the Jets sweater Mark Chipman delivered to hang on his wall. Although the Bombers sweater, he points out, came framed, courtesy of Wade Miller.

But decorating his office with Winnipeg sports memorabilia is not what I have come to discuss with our hip, handsome and immensely likable young mayor.

I want to know how it felt when he saw Saturday's National Post front page, with his photo and the headline that went with it: The Most Important Mayor in Canada.

"I wish the headline said, The Most Important City In Canada. That's what I would have preferred," Bowman says, flashing his dazzling signature smile. "But, you know, if it gets us on the national scene a little bit more, that's a great thing."

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 25/11/2014 (1761 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

It's Monday afternoon, and Brian Bowman is in his city hall office explaining to a visitor he still hasn't framed the gift of a Goldeyes jersey Sam Katz left for him in a closet; or the Jets sweater Mark Chipman delivered to hang on his wall. Although the Bombers sweater, he points out, came framed, courtesy of Wade Miller.

But decorating his office with Winnipeg sports memorabilia is not what I have come to discuss with our hip, handsome and immensely likable young mayor.

I want to know how it felt when he saw Saturday's National Post front page, with his photo and the headline that went with it: The Most Important Mayor in Canada.

"I wish the headline said, The Most Important City In Canada. That's what I would have preferred," Bowman says, flashing his dazzling signature smile. "But, you know, if it gets us on the national scene a little bit more, that's a great thing."

Bowman says he believes Winnipeg is the most important city in Canada.

Really?

"Far too often, there's been national attention when we have tragedies in Winnipeg. And there are some amazing things happening in Winnipeg, as you often talk about and report. Obviously I'd like to see those reported nationally and internationally."

Interestingly, the story that appeared in the National Post was assigned to political columnist Graham Thomson by his boss at the Edmonton Journal, editor Margo Goodhand, who is also the former Free Press editor.

Actually, Thomson's piece doesn't call Bowman Canada's most important mayor; that's something the headline writer infers from what's written. As it turns out, it's those "tragedies" as Bowman refers to the violence inflicted on aboriginal girls, and, as the Post piece says, "how he handles the city's aboriginal issues... that will be under scrutiny across Canada."

As Thomson's opening words also suggest.

"The adage that we deserve the politicians we get is usually uttered as a curse," he writes. "For Winnipeg, it seems to be a blessing.

"At a time of vicious assaults against young aboriginal women, and recent polling that suggests three-quarters of residents believe they live in a racially divided city, Winnipeggers have elected its first aboriginal mayor."

His election, Thomson points out, "comes at a time when the city desperately needs to bridge an ominous gap."

Bowman refuses to believe there's a gap, that we are a city divided. But when it comes to our aboriginal population, we are — economically, geographically and by that other important unmeasurable: hope.

I think what Bowman is saying, though, is we're not an intolerant city.

At least not any more than any other, he will tell you. After all, as Bowman points out, in recent decades we have elected our first female mayor, gay mayor, Jewish mayor and now Métis mayor.

And then, just last month, there was the civic election where First Nations candidate Robert-Falcon Ouellette attracted a significant vote. And, of course, the "drunken native guys downtown" Facebook slur from Gord Steeves' wife that sounded the beginning of the end of his campaign and opened the door wide for Bowman's victory. "We have a growing indigenous community in Winnipeg," Bowman told Thomson. "It's something I'm very proud of and more and more Winnipeggers are seeing that as a source of strength."

Regardless, Bowman didn't trumpet his Métis background during the election campaign. Judging by what he's said and done since, though, Bowman recognizes the significance of his heritage in a city whose dealings with aboriginals, historically, has been less than kind.

Clearly, he understands the importance of his position and his ancestry in the city where Louis Riel is buried.

"Just before I was sworn in," Bowman told Thomson, "I was writing my speech and added in a recognition that we're in the heart of the Métis nation. I was told those words were never uttered by a mayor in the chamber, so when I did the swearing and uttered those words, the weight of history was definitely not lost on me."

More recently, he proved that again in another way. After the brutal attack on a teenage aboriginal girl that also made national headlines, Bowman invited Manitoba's First Nations chiefs to meet him at city hall. That, to my knowledge, has never happened in the city's history.

But Bowman's promise as a politician goes way beyond aboriginal issues. He says he is about openness and positivity and the inclusion of everyone.

And I believe him.

For the moment, it's the aboriginal file that is defining him nationally.

But it's not what will define him over the next four years. It's the sense of openness and hope I felt in his office.

The fortress feel is gone, if not the Goldeyes uniform.

"There is more belief in our city than despair," he told me. "A lot more belief in our city."

I believe that, too.

And, for that matter, I believe Brian Bowman is The Most Important Mayor in Canada in the Most Important City in Canada.

Anyone who lives here want to argue that?

gordon.sinclair@freepress.mb.ca

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History

Updated on Tuesday, November 25, 2014 at 7:50 AM CST: Replaces photo

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