Manitoba Tory Leader Brian Pallister focused on the wrong issue last week when he decided to quibble with the suggestion Winnipeg is Canada's most racist city because of the way it treats aboriginal peoples.

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This article was published 28/1/2015 (2461 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Editorial

Manitoba Tory Leader Brian Pallister focused on the wrong issue last week when he decided to quibble with the suggestion Winnipeg is Canada's most racist city because of the way it treats aboriginal peoples.

He and others who object to the characterization of Winnipeg in a Maclean's magazine story would do better if they spent more time talking about the problem and possible solutions.

Monument to missing, murdered aboriginal women at The Forks.

Monument to missing, murdered aboriginal women at The Forks.

Because if the city doesn't see the aboriginal question as an emergency, then it most assuredly will suffer a fate far worse than a negative headline.

To be fair, Mr. Pallister acknowledged the challenge, but his matter-of-fact tone made it seem like it was just another one of those issues in the poverty file.

Mayor Brian Bowman, by contrast, was manifestly alarmed by the devastating collection of statistics and comments in the Maclean's article, written by Winnipegger Nancy Macdonald. Instead of denying the article or questioning its methodology, he gathered up as many leaders as he could find to demonstrate a united front during a news conference Thursday. For that, he deservedly received accolades from political leaders across the country.

Here at home, some key leaders such as Premier Greg Selinger and Tory MP Shelly Glover have been quiet. They haven't said much, if anything, about the need to step up efforts to resolve Winnipeg's racial divide.

The provincial and federal governments, of course, are heavily engaged in aboriginal issues, but the pace of change has been glacial on all fronts -- education, justice, employment, health, social services and infrastructure on First Nations communities.

The private sector must be part of the solution, too, yet the silence from the business community was the most deafening of all following the magazine article.

Major corporations need to ask what they are doing to combat racism and help aboriginal peoples feel welcomed and included in the community. The banks, insurance companies, shopping malls and other large employers need diversity policies that actively recruit aboriginals.

They also need to provide training, so their employees won't automatically suspect wrongdoing whenever an indigenous person walks through the door.

It's often said refugees receive more support than people from First Nations, who frequently feel like they are travelling to a strange country when they leave their homes for Winnipeg and other cities. Once here, they experience hostility and resentment.

Mayor Bowman's call to action was not merely about rescuing indigenous peoples; it's about saving Winnipeg itself.

Nearly one in five Manitobans today is of aboriginal ancestry. Within a decade, according to some estimates, one in three children entering kindergarten will be aboriginal.

Success in the future, in other words, will depend on aboriginal people becoming a vital part of the community's social and economic fabric. They must be seen as an opportunity, not a problem.

A lot of people stood tall when Winnipeg's racial divide was brought to national attention, but too many were silent or invisible, including politicians and business leaders.

Others remain distracted by labels and headlines.

The murder of Tina Fontaine has been called a turning point in the city's race relations. Maybe so, but prejudice is a light sleeper, and politicians have a habit of forgetting.

When it comes to racism in Winnipeg, however, silence is no longer an option.