AN overwhelming majority of Winnipeg residents believes the division between the city’s aboriginal and non-aboriginal communities is a serious issue, a new poll shows.

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AN overwhelming majority of Winnipeg residents believes the division between the city’s aboriginal and non-aboriginal communities is a serious issue, a new poll shows.

According to a Winnipeg Free Press/ CTV Winnipeg Probe Research poll, 75 per cent of those surveyed agreed with the statement, "The division between aboriginal and non-aboriginal citizens is a serious issue in our city."

Dennis Lewycky

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Dennis Lewycky

Probe Research president Scott MacKay said the finding points to myriad issues that include lack of education, job training, migration from reserves to the city and even more complex issues that need further exploration.

"That’s a massive public consensus when you get three-quarters of people saying ‘there’s a problem here,’ " MacKay said. "It’s not in any way racism. It’s just a bold acknowledgement that something is wrong here and we have this gulf between the two populations.

"People are groping for ways to address that gap but I don’t think a lot of nonaboriginal people really have an understanding of what it will take" — Dennis Lewycky, executive director of the Social Planning Council of Winnipeg

"Now that we know the public feels this way, we have to start asking questions: Why? And what is the nature of this problem?"

Probe Research conducted a random and representative telephone survey of 602 adults from Sept. 18 to Oct. 1. The margin of error is plus or minus four per cent, 19 times out of 20. The margin of error is higher within each of the survey’s sub-groups.

Dennis Lewycky, executive director of the Social Planning Council of Winnipeg, said the high number of Winnipeggers who recognize there is a problem is a positive first step — what’s pivotal is what happens next.

"I don’t think a lot of people really know how to address," the problem, Lewycky said. "People are groping for ways to address that gap but I don’t think a lot of non-aboriginal people really have an understanding of what it will take."

MacKay said the genesis for the poll question arose from a controversy that emerged in the mayoral campaign — the responses to the revelation in mid-August of the notorious four-year-old Facebook posting by Gord Steeves’ wife, Lorrie Steeves, about feeling threatened by "drunken native guys" aggressively panhandling downtown.

Aboriginal leaders criticized her posting.

Lorrie Steeves immediately apologized for the post after it became public but Gord Steeves — who ducked the media for four days — did not.

Steeves has skipped several mayoral forums that focused on aboriginal and poverty issues and has avoided dealing with the question of what measures can be taken to improve the quality of life for the city’s 72,000 aboriginal residents.

Steeves even stayed quiet when the slaying of teenager Tina Fontaine galvanized Canada-wide attention on the issue of a national inquiry into slain and missing indigenous women.

Of the mayoral candidates, only Judy Waslylycia-Leis has produced a comprehensive policy on improving living conditions for aboriginal residents. She has committed to chair a roundtable with aboriginal and non-aboriginal leaders that will develop strategies for job creation, safety, recreation services and housing.

Brian Bowman and Robert-Falcon Ouellette have endorsed urban reserves and Bowman’s culture policy puts a priority on promoting indigenous artists.

The City of Winnipeg adopted an aboriginal youth strategy in 2008, with a $1-million budget, that identifies gaps in recreation, education and job training within the civic sector. The city recently partnered with the Manitoba Metis Federation and the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, designing a primary care paramedic program for a handful of aboriginal people. In September, council approved a matching $150,000 grant, with a similar contribution from the province, to ensure extended operational hours for an aboriginal youth drop-in centre.

Lewycky said government initiatives haven’t been sufficient to address the division between aboriginal and nonaboriginal society and it’s going to take individual efforts from people to make a difference.

"Yes, government has some responsibility but we as individuals also have some responsibility."

aldo.santin@freepress.mb.ca

 

Has the civic election campaign offered up ideas to help ease the city’s racial divide? Join the conversation in the comments below.