Winnipeg is home to the largest urban aboriginal population in Canada, and as such, the grassroots community, also known as the village, led by indigenous community members and values, is a complicated network of helpers, organizations and knowledge keepers that give freely of their gifts and time on a regular basis. The reason for and intention of this giving is to improve the well-being of our families and communities. In 2015, the village made headlines on many occasions for constantly proposing solutions and leading by example to address our shared community challenges. This is my summary of the Top 10 Village Moments of 2015.
10. Meet Me at the Bell Tower Welcome series (May, August and October)
After Winnipeg was accused of being Canada’s most racist city by Maclean’s magazine, the village rose up and the Welcome series was born. The Bell Tower family is to be commended for taking steps to welcome our relatives from other nations to share with one another. In 2015, the Filipino, newcomer and Muslim communities were welcomed and invited to speak and connect with residents of the indigenous and North End community. Meet Me at the Bell Towers have continued every Friday at 6 p.m. since November 2011 at the corner of Selkirk Avenue and Powers Street with the support of the Indigenous Family Centre and AYO! (Aboriginal Youth Opportunities).
9. Red Rising Magazine (October)
In August, after Winnipeg Water Wednesdays, a group of young activists ate together and concluded that an unfiltered urban indigenous voice was needed. The result was Red Rising Magazine, debuting at MM@BT in October. The first issue was vibrant and rugged in print form and focused on stories of identity, poems, photos and artwork that reflect the urban indigenous experience. All community members are invited to submit, with a reminder that articles are to be indigenous themed. Issue 2 is set to be released in early 2016 and you can find it at various retailers, including Neechi Niche (Neechi Commons) as well as online at www.redrisingmagazine.ca. The first issue was supported financially by individuals in the village as well as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
8. Indigenous participation in the 42nd federal election (August-October)
Indigenous-led initiatives in the village worked hard to keep indigenous topics on the agenda during this election. Specifically, the AYO Politix Brain Storms, which happen weekly at Neechi Commons Bison Berry Restaurant at 12 noon, met with all four of the four candidates for Winnipeg North member of Parliament, recorded speed rounds with them and host an all-candidates brainstorm. Also, for the first time Brain Storms were held in Winnipeg Centre at the University of Winnipeg’s Hive, featuring two of the Winnipeg Centre candidates. Acknowledgment is also in order for the Winnipeg Indigenous Rock the Vote initiative that hosted identification clinics and set up voter identification and education booths at community events in Winnipeg, and even travelled to some First Nations communities in southern Manitoba to encourage the on-reserve vote as well.
7. Our Summit and 13 Fires racial inclusion initiatives (September and December)
This fall, city and citizens came together to discuss racial inclusion on a local and national level. Hundreds of Winnipeggers came together on one evening at both One: The Mayor’s National Summit on Racial Inclusion and the village-organized Our Summit on Local Racial Inclusion. Our Summit happened beneath a rainbow at Oodena Celebration Circle at The Forks and featured conversation circles, open space discussions and feedback sessions, as well as a march to the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. Initially 13 topics were identified, and the community was invited back in December to Thunderbird House for the 13 Fires Winnipeg Conversation Series launch, where the topics were finalized and 13 different discussions were planned for December 2015 to December 2016 — a total of 13 gatherings. Outcomes will include increased communication, strengthened relationships, and community and institutional recommendations. The topic for the January Fire is poverty. More information is available on Facebook and Twitter at #13FiresWPG.
6. 100 Basketballs campaign (May)
Launched May 1 with the support of AYO!, Ralph Brown Community Centre, the Winnipeg Police Service, the Winnipeg Minor Basketball Association and Basketball Manitoba, the 100 Basketballs campaign under the leadership of Lenard Monkman aimed to get basketballs, shorts and shoes into the hands of North End kids ahead of the summer break as a way to promote recreational alternatives to negative activities. It culminated May 31 at a Family Fun Day featuring the biggest basketball game the North End had ever seen, between the AYO All Stars, led by Point Douglas MLA Kevin Chief, against the Winnipeg Police Service team, led by their Chief Devon Clunis. In the end, hundreds of basketballs, gear, hot dogs and good times were had, with the AYO team winning the contest 48-28.
5. Return of the Bear Clan (Summer)
What began as unrest in the community in 2014, after the Tina Fontaine tragedy, came to fruition in the summer of 2015, when the Bear Clan Patrol returned to Winnipeg streets thanks to support from the Dufferin Residents Association of Winnipeg and some of the original members of the patrol from the 1990s. They patrol the streets of the community, promoting safety and acting as helpers to residents needing assistance. They patrol Thursdays through Sundays and meet at 6 p.m. at North Centennial Recreation and Leisure Centre at 90 Sinclair St., except for Fridays, when they muster at MM@BT. You can find them on Twitter, Facebook or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions or would like to volunteer for the patrol.
4. West End 24/7 campaign (June and November)
Like the Bear Clan Patrol, the motivating incident behind the West End Safe Spaces 24/7 initiative was the Tina Fontaine tragedy. Kimberly Bouvette and other West End youth convened like-minded individuals and organizations for the West End 24/7 project, which was launched publicly in the summer. Their first crowdfunding campaign, launched in November, aimed for $25,000, and as of Dec. 27, had $33,000, their GoFundMe page shows. Congratulations to this group from the village that wants the West End community’s young people to have access to a safe space 24 hours a day and seven days per week, like that available at Ndinawe Youth Resource Centre in the North End and Rossbrook House in central Winnipeg.
3. Drag the Red (Summer)
For the second summer in a row, volunteers and family members from the village have come together to drag the Red River. This initiative is a grassroots attempt to bring clues, closure or some peace to those who have a family member who is missing. Their searches have included forensics training as well as an experience this past September where what was thought to be human teeth were discovered in their search and handed over to Winnipeg police. This is a committed group and all of our relatives who search forests, fields, landfills, streets and rivers for justice are examples we can learn from.
2. Brick-breaking and construction at the Merch (September)
Since the old Merchant’s Hotel closed in 2012, North Enders and Winnipeggers have all wondered what was to become of the hotel that was originally built in 1913. The answer came earlier this year, when the North End Community Renewal Corp., alongside elders, residents and students, unveiled Merchants Corner Inc. at a brick-breaking ceremony, kicking off the reconstruction of the hotel into a mixed-use building featuring housing, university and high school education space as well as retail and community space on the main floor. Additional details can be found and donations can still be made to support this renewal initiative to truly become the pride of the North End at www.themerch.ca.
1. Thunderbird House rises (October-December)
Since it was built in the year 2000, the Circle of Life Thunderbird House has been a place for indigenous communities to gather, nurture spirits and share indigenous knowledge with all nations. In the last quarter of 2015, the Thunderbird House has really emerged as a destination for community events and many important initiatives. Committees and councils have been launched (such as the elders, youth, men, women and two spirit), and weekly drumming and sweats continue, with a plan to expand elders services and the volunteer program Thunder Hearts in the new year. There are three tenants who provide service out of TBH, including Manitoba Moon Voices Inc., Oshki-Giizhig and the Aboriginal Circle of Educators, and venue bookings have increased, allowing the Thunderbird House to live true to its values of love, share and heal. It has recently hosted pipe ceremonies, sacred fires and clan gatherings and will also be holding a New Year’s Eve Social.
Got Bannock and the Red Ribbons for Missing and Murdered Initiative, Callie’s Backpacks Halloween Costume Drive, Idle No More Turns 3, Clan Teachings at Thunderbird House, the Village Honours Murray Sinclair and Winnipeg Water Walk for Shoal Lake 40.
I am extremely proud of all the hard work that the village has put into making our communities and families a little bit stronger in 2015, and cannot wait to see how we can continue to build on these successes in the coming year. Congratulations to all the organizers and helpers who constantly donate their time, resources and gifts, working towards being a good relative in the village.
This article originally appeared on CBC Manitoba: http://www.cbc.ca/beta/news/canada/manitoba/top-10-village-moments-of-2015-in-winnipeg-s-indigenous-community-1.3383077