When Maclean’s magazine dubbed Winnipeg “Canada’s Most Racist City” in 2015, Winnipeggers were shocked. But rather than acting defensively, the community took action to tackle the huge issue of healing and reconciling Canada’s relationship with Indigenous peoples. Mayor Brian Bowman declared 2016 the “Year of Reconciliation”, and institutions and community-based organizations alike increased their efforts to implement 94 Calls to Action proposed in the national Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) report.
Assiniboine Credit Union provides funding to support the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) to conduct research and prepare an annual State of the Inner City report. This year’s focus was reconciliation. Winnipeg as a whole has seen important gains in income, education and employment rates. But the inner city with a high concentration of Indigenous residents lags behind in these important indicators.
There has been a leap of understanding in the community, and in societies across Canada.
Breaking down barriers and building relationships is not new to community development work. Residents, community-based organizations and grassroots efforts in Winnipeg’s inner city have already been performing significant acts of reconciliation for decades, even though they may not define it as such. Grassroots groups are understandably resistant to models of reconciliation they perceive as coming from outside the community. They have developed their own approaches based on local knowledge and being responsive to local needs.
“Winnipeg’s inner city is leading the country in processes of reconciliation,” says Niigaan Sinclair, lead author and acting head of the Department of Native Studies at the University of Manitoba.
Leaders interviewed for this research said the release of the Calls to Action gives their work validation and inspiration. As one participant said, “I think a consciousness has emerged. There has been a leap of understanding in the community, and in societies across Canada. I feel it. No longer can people pretend that they do not know.”
Community leaders in the inner city know there is a long way to go before reconciliation can be achieved. However they are undertaking practices and developing policies that embody healthy relationships and undermine Canada’s historical interactions with Indigenous peoples.
Local Indigenous organizations are at the forefront of developing new models for decision-making. They are guided by Elders that incorporate traditional ways of knowing and cultural teachings; all essential for healing and creating new paths going forward. Community-based groups are building key alliances, striving for equitable funding for Indigenous groups and funding to amplify successful culturally-based healing efforts.
The State of the Inner City Report concludes that a key aspect of reconciliation is supporting Indigenous organizations to lead the way in improving social and economic circumstances. It also recognizes that we don’t have to look far to see the solutions. Winnipeg’s inner city is already far along a path many have yet to start.
A full copy of the 2016 State of the Inner City report is downloadable from CCPA Manitoba’s website.
Molly McCracken is the CCPA’s Manitoba director. She previously worked in inner-city Winnipeg facilitating an outreach program with street-involved women and later as Executive Director of an inner-city neighbourhood renewal corporation. Molly holds a Master’s degree in Public Policy and Administration from Carlton University, has worked in government as an analyst and serves on the board of several not-for-profit community-based organizations.