The Mayor's National Summit on Racial Inclusion

THE MAYOR’s NATIONAL SUMMIT on RACIAL INCLUSION

Thursday, September 17, 2015,.

Canadian Museum for Human Rights

 

Thank you, Dr. Young.

Welcome Elders, Premier Selinger, Ms. honoured guests, presenters, and participants:

 

Welcome, everyone, to the heart of Winnipeg, on Treaty one land, and the traditional homeland of the Métis Nation…to the ONE National Summit on Racial Inclusion. . .

 

I ask that our Elders from our Indigenous community joining us today offer us their blessing and prayers as we work together in this gathering.

 

And I ask Winnipeggers … and indeed all Canadians from every background and community to keep us, and the task before us, in their hearts.

 

I would like to thank Dr. Young and the Canadian Museum for Human Rights for being our partners. . . and Premier Selinger, Minister James Allum, and the Province of Manitoba along with Chairperson Albert Lo, and Executive Director Anita Bromberg of the Canadian Race Relations Foundation for their strong and steadfast support of this endeavour.

 

And, of course, I extend my sincere gratitude to all of you taking part in the Summit with us at the Canadian Museum…for Human Rights, here on sacred land near the Forks … and to everyone joining us through live stream and social media…to collaborate as we seek . . . solutions …in a collective spirit of honesty and urgency and determination and hope.

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“No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

 

Those words were spoken by Nelson  Mandella.

 

Their meaning resonates with hope ... but not without heartache…having to learn to love …when it’s something we are born to give and receive.

 

And with those words in mind, I want to begin by reminding everyone why we are here:

 

On January 22nd of this year, Maclean’s published an article labelling Winnipeg…the Canadian city renowned for our generosity and compassion…… as “the Most Racist City in Canada”.

Later the same day, in an act of unity, this community, came together to admit to a difficult problem that none of us are proud of. ...and when we could have split as a community divided…… and blamed or excused…Winnipeg chose the courageous path of truth in an ugly and shameful moment. I believe THIS to be one of our most important endeavours in Canadatoday:facing painful truths; changing old attitudes; and embracing the people… and the practices that are helping bring about change now. . . and developing and sharing new ideas to make Canada truly inclusive...

 

This is the hard work we must do, to ensure dignity and opportunity for every person in this country and to reclaim our highest aspirations as a nation.

 

We began the difficult task to face the painful truth and we committed, in unity, to work toward a solution. I was, along with so many others, so deeply proud of my City that day.

And today, as I look around this room, I remain proud to see just how important this endeavour is to so many people. I believe that, how we responded, with honesty and humility, speaks to the integrity of our collective character. And let us remain proud…but let us also tread mindfully.

 

In these two days, in this inaugural Summit, we will not, and cannot mend the profound hurts and wrongs and injustices, of generations, and centuries. The ONE Summit is a stepping-stoneon a long journey, and we are here in commitment to that journey.

 

Let us remain ever cognizant that there will always be those who believe we do not have a problem with racism at all, or who believe there is no hope…that our work here, today, is pointless.

 

Well, I don’t accept that. And I am confident that you are here today, because you don’t accept it, either. It is, of course, true that discussion alone will never improve the horrible experience for a young Black Canadian man who experiences discrimination applying for a job; or for a South Asian Canadian woman who’s taunted for wearing a hijab; or for Rosanna Deerchild...having racist and sexist venom spat, at her, from a passing car, or for any of the injustices we will all hear about, and learn from, this evening, and throughout tomorrow.

 

I simply cannot fathom the cost to our City, to our families and future generations if we do notacknowledge…or if we simply do not try. What I hope and believe we can do, is, by bringing together some of the best minds, and most dedicated hearts, people with a deep understanding of the need for racial inclusion , people who have been fighting hard on the front lines…I believe we can share solutions. . . . cultivate new ideas. . . and. . . increase the tempo… and urgency of the search for solutions, across Canada.

 

When we announced in March, that this Summit would take place…I recognized then what an enormous task lay before us.But as word of our plan got out to other cities… and Winnipeggers became even more engaged in the effort… as interest to join Winnipeg’s conversation poured in from across the city and from out across Canada from Abbotsford and Victoria- to St, John’s…Calgary, Toronto, Halifax…

 

… it became almost immediately apparent, that we are ready to face this together...and that there exists a very real desire to begin this journey toward racial inclusion through actions and change.

 

It is my hope that our journey will improve our ability to acknowledge that we have a problem.

 More impactful than any press conference, or Summit, is the honest discussion at work, in the community … with family members and friends, when the cameras are off and we continue speaking the truth … even in private.  Especially in private.

I want us to collaborate to better define what we can do as a City. These are not just federal issues, or provincial issues, these are our issues to fix in municipalities across Canada as well- let’s take a closer look at Winnipeg’s precise role and opportunities over the next two days…

 

Let’s try to develop concrete ideas that will help each of us, as individuals, acknowledge our own roles in racism.

 

All of us, in some way or another, typecast, stereotype, or make decisions based on beliefs that are rooted in the same untruths as racism.

 

We must take this opportunity to look for ways to inspire introspection and personal accountability that we can get into every individual’s toolbox … because change …

…it starts from within…

I believe we can find ways to build more empathy. Regardless of race, creed or religion, the common need and desire at the foundation of every issue we face is the human need … and desire… to be heard and understood. How can we raise healthy more caring empathetic children? How can we become more caring empathetic adults?

 

We must consider means to enhance our ability to accept and meet our innate human need to be accepted. And finally, I believe that in this summit we can start to shape plans that will guide us to judge less and accept more. Corporations, municipalities, faith-based organizations, community organizations, neighbourhoods…we all benefit from a renewed ability to see the other side... a perspective that expands far beyond our own personal perspectives.

With your participation in panel engagements, through your shared stories and ideas we gather through the panel discussions, expression booth, and your comments throughout this entire event, and following our discussions and sharing over tonight and tomorrow …the information and ideas are going to be vast, broad and plentiful.

 

The City of Winnipeg’s Citizen Equity Committee, chaired by Councillor Cindy Gilroy, has led the charge to take on the enormous task to take all of our information from this summit, including transcriptions of all expression booth videos, and prepare a final report… to document our collective voices. And then, at our planned press conference next January, one year after the Maclean’s article originally published… labelling Winnipeg as the Most Racist City in Canada, Winnipeg will show what we’ve done to address racism together, as ONE community…and to share what steps we intend to take moving forward, together  … so our journey begins the shift from ideas into action.

I believe that having sharable ideas that we can use now as a result of your participation today is not only possible, but I believe it is achievable and worth every moment that we invest into this critical journey.

 

Nancy MacDonald, author of the Maclean’s article, is here this evening. I want to thank you, Nancy, for shining a light into darkness that cities across the nation all share.

 

 

Elder Lyle Longclaws has written, “Before the healing can take place, the poison must be exposed.” And while I do thank Nancy, I note that there are many people in this room who have dedicated their lives and careers to telling the truth about injustice… and racism in our society …

 

I want to thank every single one of you, for focusing the questions for us, so clearly and for your important roles serving as beacons of light in our community.These are dark, troubling times, in the world, with the world facing the biggest refugee crisis since World War II.

 

As Canadians, we believe in doing our part to help. My Mayoral colleagues across Canada are mobilizing to help. Premiers, like our Premier, are mobilizing to help. And Canadians across the country, are mobilizing to help. As Canadians, we feel moments like this deeply.

 

Most of those who’ve come to Canada from somewhere else in the world – or whose forebears came from somewhere else…came to get away from exclusion. Exclusion due to poverty, or lack of economic opportunity; exclusion based on religious or political intolerance; or exclusion tied to race or ethnicity or language. This museum is full of vivid, and terrible, examples.

Immigrants to Canada have come, for generations, in the hope and confidence of being included.

Racial inclusion should be second nature to us, by now.

And at our best…it is.

 

But there are darker moments in our history. Moments we have to confront, and own up to.

 

Turning back would-be immigrants from Punjab in 1914, solely on the basis of race. Interning Ukrainian-Canadians as “enemy aliens”, in World War I. Imposing a head-tax on Chinese-Canadians. Interning Japanese-Canadians in the Second World War. And the almost complete rejection of Jewish refugees fleeing the Nazis, under the infamous policy later described as “None is too many.” And, even as Canada started to become more diverse, generations of Canadians suffered from racial and religious discrimination in university admissions, opportunities to purchase real estate, and of course in employment opportunities as well.

 

We have not always lived up to our ideals of inclusion. Our history is marred by terrible lapses, terrible failures…and terrible betrayals of the ideals we hold dear. None more terrible than the treatment of Indigenous peoples, First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples.

 

The exclusion that Indigenous peoples have had to endure, and still endure, is especiallyunconscionable. Because, Indigenous peoples treated newcomers in a generous and inclusive spirit, only to be excluded and treated as exiles, in their own land.

 

Without Tecumsehand First Nations allies, there might very well be no independent Canada as we know it, today.

 

It is amazing that, down through our history and despite every injury, Indigenous peoples have stood on guard defending Canada, in all our conflicts, including both World Wars, and in the far north and remote regions. But this generosity and courage has not been reciprocated as it should have been. Over the generations, we have seen this manifested in many ways.

 

In terms of legal rights and economic policy and sheer survival, as Professor James Daschukpowerfully argues in his Clearing the Plains, winner of the 2014 Macdonald Prize.

 

And, catastrophically, in terms of the violence and abuse and cultural destruction imposed by the residential school system. As a parent, I cannot conceive the forced exile and estrangement and heartbreak inflicted on generation after generation. As a member of a community, I cannot conceive the loss of language and culture and spirituality inflicted on generation after generation.

I know the work done by the Honourable Mr. Justice Murray Sinclair and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was incredibly difficult and painful. And the pain that survivors endured, to tell their stories, was excruciating.

 

 

Addressing the recommendations of the Commission is going to be the biggest challenge any of us face in our lifetime, I am certain. But the Federation of Canadian Municipalities is committed to work with the community, to try. The Big City Mayors’ Caucus is committed to work with the community, to try. As a City of Winnipeg, we are committed to try, and we are already looking for opportunities to work on the recommendations that specifically pertain to municipalities.

This must be with leadership from the community, at large.

 

Too often, political leaders have tried to address problems “for” Indigenous peoples, instead of with Indigenous peoples. We want to do better. We want to listen, and we want to learn.

 

That is part of the imperative and impetus behind this ONE Summit.

 

I can tell you, as a City we have made a start on implementing recommendation #57, educating public servants in departments across the City, on the history of Aboriginal peoples though awareness and diversity training as well as medicine teachings. It is a just a start.

 

But we are sincere and passionate about it, and we want to listen and learn and keep moving forward. Despite the challenges and acknowledging fully, that, we have to do much, much more.

 

I believe our speakers this evening have important things to share with us, and this city, and this country: that reflect Mandela’s conviction. And I believe the work we will do here, together, will guide us back to what comes naturally to us. Racism is a vicious circle. It starts with falsehood, it engenders injustice, and the injustice generates more falsehoods, and more pain.

 

In every part of the community – every part! – we need to interrupt that destructive cycle, and transform it into a virtuous circle. A healing circle.

 

The great Tomson Highway said, “This is the way the Cree look at life. A continuous cycle…

A self-rejuvenating force.”

 

I’m eager to hear the insights all of our speakers have to share. Because they all bring incredible passion, commitment, and depth of personal experience to the questions we’re grappling with, in this Summit. We’re facing a tremendous challenge, in Winnipeg and across Canada - - - to fight against exclusion, and win some victories for inclusion. But I am hopeful. The Manito Ahbeefestival has just concluded – celebrating Aboriginal arts, music, culture, and spirituality.

Activities that were once outlawed. Lisa Meeches, the Director, and one of tomorrow’s speakers, said, we look at this “as an opportunity to be victorious. We want everyone celebrating with us.” This gives me hope.

 

I’m hopeful because of the partnerships we have with community organizations like the Immigrant Centre, and the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization of Manitoba.

 

I’m hopeful because of the commitment and leadership being provided by our Indigenous Advisory Circle, and our Aboriginal Relations Division, and our Citizen Equity Committee.

 

I’m hopeful because of the commitment and care of staff in our civic departments. Most of all, I’m hopeful because of the tremendous and positive response of citizens. The desire to make things better. The desire to be “ONE” as a community.

 

Being here in this space, this evening, makes me dare to hope. Here, the installations remind us of the challenges we face, but also the successes we’ve had making Canada a better country.

This museum’s architect and exhibit planner carefully shaped a space that is, in their words, “a journey from darkness, into light.” A long, winding, climb to the mountain-top. Topping the Museum, above all of us as we gather to take the first steps of this journey together, is the Tower of Hope. The Tower is unfinished… and it is unfinished for a reason – as a symbol that the work here will never be done. I believe it symbolizes this journey we are committed to, as well.

 

The work we are doing, together, now, will not end with the conclusion of the ONE Summit tomorrow; it will not end next January, or in two years, or a generation.

 

This is our journey, as a city, and a nation. It is a journey that never ends.

It’s a journey that requires our energy and our conviction so that we achieve dignity for our elders; opportunity and respect for each fellow-citizen; and a better future for our children.

 

It is our journey that connects us all in the belief that we do have reason to hope.

Thank you all so very much for being a part of this.

 

Merci and Megwiitch.

 

 

 

 

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