Young students from around the province met recently to discuss how to tackle racism in Manitoba.
Mackenzie Anderson was one of the students invited to join the student forum. He attends school at the University of Winnipeg (U of W) Collegiate, and he says that students had a chance to discuss how to address racism on their own terms.
“The forum was a great experience. We had a lot of amazing speakers and workshops,” Anderson writes in an email to The Uniter. “One of the things we did for the forum was put teachers at their own tables and mixed students from different schools at other tables.
“The students really got a chance to talk and meet other students without the pressure of the teacher next to them, which I think really made the discussions more honest and easy-flowing.”
There are six conferences in total. Two took place in October of 2016, two this past February and a final one is in April, where students will come together and present a proclamation to Chief Justice Murray Sinclair on how reconciliation for Indigenous people can occur.
Gerri Crilly, an Aboriginal academic achievement consultant, says the students identified a lot of problems with racism in their communities, many of which involve common myths about Indigenous students.
“This came up quite considerably, that (people believe) Indigenous kids don’t have to pay to go to school, which is false. Totally false,” Crilly says.
Not all Indigenous students receive funding for school. Potential students have to apply, and the demand for funding exceeds the money available. Indigenous students also have to hold Indian status, must re-apply to their band every year, uphold a certain grade point average, have a career outline, not miss classes and take a minimum of four courses per semester.
“But that’s still a belief that’s out there that students identify as concerning. Because when (Indigenous) students go to school, they’re often looked at as, ‘Oh you’re here on a freebie’ … All of them agree that some forms of racism still exist in their communities.”
Crilly says the students also expressed interest not just in Indigenous issues, but also in LGBTQ+ issues such as gender identity and bathroom usage.
One idea that the students seemed to settle on was renaming the Langevin building. The building was named after Hector-Louis Langevin, an important figure in establishing the Canadian residential school system.
The renaming hasn’t been confirmed. For now, students are taking the ideas they discussed back to their respective schools to see what the rest of their classmates think.
Anderson says that he’s got a simple motto that he brought to the forum.
“My solution is simple. Treat everyone with the same amount of respect and kindness, no matter who they are or where they're from,” Anderson writes.