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Being family the way out of racism

By James Buchok


WINNIPEG — Is Winnipeg a racist city?

Writer and broadcaster Rosanna Deerchild describes it as beautiful and full of creative people, “but it’s also this ugly place.” Deerchild was part of a panel talking about Our Divided City: A discussion on racism, reconciliation, and the future of Winnipeg, Nov. 26 at the University of Winnipeg.

Deerchild is of Cree descent and said she has suffered blatant racist name calling and also subtle signs of distrust, such as people on a bus shifting in their seats or tightening the grip on their purses.
“I don’t want your purse,” she said.

“Ignorance is bliss and Canada is a very blissful place,” Deerchild said. “There’s a cure for that called education. We have to ask questions, especially the ones you’re not supposed to ask. As long as we don’t talk about it, that’s when it festers, then we have people making assumptions about each other. Until we fix it, racism will rip apart this country.”

Shannon Buck is an Aboriginal woman and owner of EastWind Training and Consulting, working in the Aboriginal community to increase indigenous cultural safety and indigenous cultural proficiency. Buck says racism in Winnipeg, “has always been there but as we become more aware, standing up for people and land and water, the underlying current of racism has been showing itself.”

She said too many Canadians have “a white saviour complex. ‘We’ll help you, but our way,’ when what we need is to bring back tradition.” Buck said Aboriginals “are the fastest growing population in Canada. We have to find a way to work together to build the nation that we were promised.”

Niigaanwewidam James Sinclair, an activist and professor at the University of Manitoba, traces his roots to St. Peter’s Indian Settlement, originally established by Chief Peguis. “The insidious part of racism is not talking about it,” Sinclair said. “Treaties are made among family. When you talk about being a family, that is the way out of racism.”

Sinclair said what he feels from white people “is a tremendous sense of ‘get over it.’ ” He said if he asks a theatre of 200 students about indigenous people, most reply, “I’ve never met one.”

“On your driver’s license there are Indian words marking your identity: Canada, Manitoba and Winnipeg. If people knew the meaning of those three words we would never have had the Red River Rebellion, the tarsands, or the mess that has been made of Lake Winnipeg.”

Bartley Kives, city hall reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press said white people think racism toward Aboriginals happened long ago. He said it’s not a bad thing that the wife of a candidate in the recent city mayor’s race was accused of making racist remarks. “Now it’s out there and we are talking about it. There is no action over anything until you talk about it.”

“People who don’t know each other don’t get along, there is no sense of a whole community responsibility,” Kives said, adding that an issue such as missing and murdered Aboriginal women is thought of as “their problem, but it’s not, it’s everybody’s problem. If we’re not all doing great then none of us is doing great.” With the biggest aboriginal population of all Canadian cities, Kives said, “we have an opportunity to do something here that can’t be done elsewhere.”

Damon Johnston, president of the Aboriginal Council of Winnipeg, asked, “Is there something about Winnipeg or is it Canada?” Johnston called the federal Indian Act of 1876, that still governs the 614 First Nation bands in Canada, “one of the most horrible pieces of legislation in the world. I have a hard time believing the Indian Act is still there.”

Deerchild said before reconciliation “there must be truth. Why don’t people know about residential schools and the treaties? We need to tell the truth and hear the truth. “

The evening was sponsored by the Spectator Tribune website, dedicated to covering life on the Canadian prairies.

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