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article imageIndigenous people in Winnipeg feel the sting of racism Special

By Ben Morris     Aug 21, 2014 in Politics
Winnipeg - Winnipeg is the capital city of "Friendly Manitoba," where indigenous people reside in numbers higher than any other city in Canada. Thanks to a comment from the wife of a mayoral candidate, racism is once again in the spotlight.
When Lorrie Steeves vented on Facebook about "drunken native guys,” who were, “hanging out and harassing the honest people who are grinding away working hard for their money,” she expressed feelings many in the indigenous community have heard. Thanks to a leak from an anonymous Twitter account, the four-year-old post has caused a backlash in the city that has shown a great division between indigenous and non-indigenous people,
Days after the story broke, Steeves' husband Gord, a former city councilor and current mayoral candidate spoke at an event and said, "We acknowledge that the comments were wrong ... I hope people understand where they come from context-wise and they were made at a time of anger and fear." The response did not please one aboriginal man, whose influence has spread across racial lines.
Wab Kinew is a journalist, hip-hop artist, and was recently named the first director of the University of Winnipeg’s Centre of Indigenous Inclusion. "When I saw it, and that they were trying to explain it, and try to gain sympathy- that offended me more than the comment,” said Kinew in a phone interview from Winnipeg. Addressing Steeves, Kinew added, “You still don’t know what is wrong with trying to paint the entire indigenous community with the same brush, you still don’t understand that there is something wrong with letting maybe a couple hundred homeless people stain the entire 70,000 plus indigenous people in the city.”
That indigenous population is the highest in Canada. According to census data from 2006, 10 percent of Winnipeg’s population is aboriginal, with more than 68,000 calling the city home. With 56 percent of Winnipeg’s homeless population identifying as aboriginal, many normal indigenous people feel the sting of the "drunk Indian," stereotype.
April Louttit is the opposite of the indigenous stereotype. She's an employed, married mother of four, who claims to receive dirty looks when she goes out in public with her white husband and mixed raced children. The racism she experiences is not "always people saying mean things," but she gets "dirty looks or slightly panicked looks," at such a frequent rate, she is "so used to racism," she no longer notices it.
According to Louttit, "Natives probably get treated the same way in any city, but Winnipeg natives are seen as a nuisance, something unpleasant you just have to live with, like wood ticks." Her beliefs are shared by a majority of indigenous people who responded to a poll conducted by the Urban Aboriginal People’s Survey which found, three out of four respondents believe non-aboriginal Winnipeggers hold a perception that all aboriginals are drunks. Other perceptions felt by aboriginals include laziness, poverty, and a lack of intelligence. These perceptions have been destroyed by a challenger of Steeves whose resume would be strong no matter his race.
Robert-Falcon Oulette served in the Canadian military for nearly two decades and holds a Bachelors degree along with two Masters and a Doctorate. Achievements that were earned despite growing up poor. Along with Kinew, Oulette believes racism in the city is rooted with ignorance of aboriginal issues. On the campaign trail he has met many indigenous people who have said, "People in the suburbs don't understand the history we've lived, or how we get where we are. They don't understand why these homeless people are homeless."
In 2011, the Winnipeg Street Health Report released a study that showed 56 percent of all homeless people in the city described themselves aboriginal. Heavy drinking by First Nations people is more than double the general population. With the affects of residential schools, and the lack of economic opportunity, among other issues, many aboriginals face barriers, and many die violent deaths.
Aboriginal women between the ages of 25-44 are five times more likely to fall victim to violent death than any other women. In Manitoba it is estimated 111 aboriginal women are missing or dead. In Canada the numbers are above 800, according to an independent researcher. More staggering are the findings that between 1980 and 2012, half of all murdered women in Manitoba were aboriginal. With the death of 15-year-old Tina Fontaine, the Native Women's Association of Canada has called for an inquiry they have not yet received, to find out why so many aboriginal women are ripped from their loved ones.
Although issues exist, and even if he abhors the comment made by Steeves, Kinew does not believe Winnipeg has a huge problem with racism. "You might have a minority, but not a significant minority of the population that is racist, but at the same time, the majority of Winnipeggers are good people."
More about Winnipeg, Aboriginals, Racism, Winnipeg civic election, Residential schools
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