Past and present

Six years ago, when Maclean’s magazine ran a cover story proclaiming Winnipeg “Canada’s most racist city,” local reactions were intense and mixed. Mayor Brian Bowman made a public statement of solidarity, while local radio DJ Dave Wheeler chastised the writer of the Maclean’s story, Nancy Macdonald, on the air, claiming that Winnipeg’s crisis of violence toward Indigenous women wasn’t racist because Indigenous Canadians were “damaging their own race.”

Almost exactly one year later, Maclean’s published a new article by Macdonald calling Winnipeg “a capital of reconciliation.” Winnipeg has made major strides in addressing racism. The initial Maclean’s article served as a wake-up call for many local organizers, and, in 2018, Wheeler was fired from his longtime radio gig for his long history of on- and off-air bigotry.

But this past week is an important reminder that we can make big strides while still having an even bigger problem.

In this week’s cover feature, features reporter Keesha Harewood examines the long-term damage that Manitoba Hydro has done to Indigenous communities in northern Manitoba. The history of Hydro’s damage to these communities goes back many decades and continues today.

This is just one example of local systemic racism to rear its ugly head in the last seven days. On Jan. 28, it was announced that the police officer who shot and killed Eishia Hudson, an unarmed Indigenous teenager, would not face charges. On Feb. 3, the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service (WFPS) held a press conference to address a report that firefighters deliberately delayed assistance to an Indigenous woman with a stab wound to the neck because the paramedic assisting her had attempted to blow the whistle on racism within the WFPS ranks. 

We can make progress, but the work is never done. Systemic racism still exists within Winnipeg’s local institutions. The hydroelectric dams keeping our lights on still operate at the expense of First Nations peoples. And, despite a very brief absence, you can still hear Dave Wheeler on local radio from 6 to 10 a.m. every weekday.

Published in Volume 75, Number 17 of The Uniter (February 4, 2021)

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