Sometimes it feels like our world is in constant danger. The news is more depressing than informative and the language used in explaining systems and political challenges is filled with dog whistles and double meanings. Many people will are well versed in identifying the challenge of issue that is most harming them…but very few people commit to identifying solutions and following through with actions that are possible or realistic.

In Winnipeg’s North End, the place where I grew up, we have a reputation. We have always been a working class neighbourhood that knows how to roll up our sleeves and help – ourselves and our neighbours. I see us as the heart of the village, a hub of urban Indigenous innovation with tough & talented residents. Some describe us in the negative terms as a neighbourhood with a high concentration of urban Indigenous people, families affected by child welfare, systemic and intergenerational challenges resulting in homelessness and poor outcomes in health, education & poverty. Both perceptions of the neighbourhood can be true at the same time; I believe that we must acknowledge both identities of our community if we are to address systemic challenges. If we understand the strengths we possess, we can use those gifts to address our shared challenges. In other words “don’t panic…organize”.

In my experiences I have learned to identify challenges with motivated community members, educate ourselves and then organize around our proposed solutions. Here are a few initiatives I have been a part of:

Urban indigenous youth voice > AYO!

In 2010 when I thought more could be done to amplify the voices, ideas and perspectives of urban Indigenous young people, I invited young people I had developed relationships with to voluntarily come to Thunderbird House so we could discuss ideas, organize events, and share with one another the types of opportunities we wanted in our lives. It has grown to encompass many weekly, seasonal and ready to activate at any moment campaigns, initiatives and networks. In the spring of 2020 this network of urban Indigenous leaders will celebrate 10 years of existence. We have an awesome website and some research from a Master’s in Community Health Sciences from Darrien Morton that can help explain a little more about us:

Community Violence > Bell Tower

In November 2011, the year when Winnipeg was named murder capital of Canada, urban Indigenous leaders from AYO called the North End and our loved ones together for Meet Me at the Bell Tower. Every Friday since then, we have met thanks to the support of residents of the North End, the Indigenous Family Centre & Food Not Bombs! We have been recognized for a number of awards and have had 2 Masters Thesis written about us, one in 2014 in Theology (Adel Compton) and one in 2017 in Architecture (Jason Syvixay).

Child Welfare > Fearless R2W

In 2014, when Indigenous grandmothers approached Meet Me at the Bell Tower asking what we were doing to stop violence that the child welfare system was causing to families in the North End, Fearless R2W was born. Today, Fearless R2W meets every Wednesday at Turtle Island neighbourhood Centre and welcomes families, helpers and service providers to increase supports for parents. We also have a buddy system where advocates help parents with navigating the CFS system in Manitoba.

Harmful Substance Use amongst youth > 13 Moons Harm Reduction

When we realized that Alcoholics Anonymous didn’t work for many of the First Nations young people we knew and loved who were struggling with addictions we knew we had to do something. To inform our solution, we looked at what we’d seen and experienced through Anishinabe teachings and ceremonies and dreamt of healing that didn’t take a summer break – something that helped us all 13 moons of the year. We connected with our relatives in health and harm reduction, locally and abroad (including Iceland) and the 13 Moons Harm Reduction initiative was born. In the past the focus was bringing community together on Saturday nights to support people who use drugs but in future months we will be focusing on street outreach and developing a healthy sexuality and harm reduction curriculum.

And then…

There are many more actions we have taken that include promoting street ceremonies, alternative education, restorative justice and more. I will leave it at this: if you are facing systemic challenges and feel nervous about your future, I want you to get organized. Identify the challenge with others, identify your preferred solution and take constant (preferrably weekly) actions where you ask questions, share knowledge and explore resources.

Let’s get to work!

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