By Lisa Charleyboy

Winnipeg is a city that is close to my heart. I’ve spent a lot of time in this city from attending many Manito Ahbee Pow Wows, to Aboriginal Music Week, and tons of other Aboriginal events, conferences, ceremonies, and festivals. This city always has a lot going on for the urban Aboriginal to enjoy as it is the “urban Aboriginal capital of Canada,” with 10% of the population identifying as Aboriginal.

Although there are many success stories that come from Winnipeg, including Aboriginal People’s Television Network, Community Organizer Michael Champagne, Métis Mayor Brian Bowman, and countless others, there is one thing that has always troubled me; Social inequality in Winnipeg is massive. According to Policy Options, Aboriginal people are nearly three times as likely to be classified as low-income as compared to the general population.

I have watched countless programs and read the headlines about the issues of gang violence, crime, and missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls coming from this city that I love. Not that these social problems are unique to Winnipeg, but as a city that I frequent consistently, it certainly has been higher on my radar than most other cities across this country.

“Indigenous women and girls face outright unsafe areas and an unsafe space within Winnipeg.”

~ Nahanni Fontaine

The wake of Tina Fontaine, Indigenous women and girls in Winnipeg often feel that there is a lack of safe space. I talked to Nahanni Fontaine, MLA for St. Johns for the Legislative Assembly of Manitoba and formerly the Special Advisor on Aboriginal Women’s Issues for the Aboriginal Issues Committee of Cabinet of Manitoba to gain further insight on this issue.   

“If you’re an indigenous young woman or girl and you’re walking in a particular area – well actually any area – but if you’re walking in a particular area of the city you’re immediately constructed as a sex trade worker or a prostitute … Indigenous women and girls are constantly solicited.”

~ Nahanni Fontaine

Imagine being a young girl walking to your friend’s place after school and being solicited by a passerby in a vehicle. And then imagine that’s a regular experience as you grow up in Winnipeg, despite the fact that you are simply trying to live your life as a normal young woman.

How might that shape your view of yourself? How might that shape the way in which you navigate your city?

“I have many incidents or reports that have come to me from women who are in what is constructed as perhaps, ‘white space’ in the city and being stopped by the police; ‘Well, what are you doing here?’ As if Indigenous women and girls can’t go to particular places. They are only relegated to the racially constructed areas of let’s say the north end, west end, or central, and if you deviate out of that what is considered ‘Indian space’ … you’re kind of no longer welcome, or you’re a threat.”

~ Nahanni Fontaine

These kind of instances reminds me of Desmond Cole’s piece in Toronto Life where he speaks about being interrogated by police simply because he’s black. From the Starlight Tours in Saskatoon to the inquest into seven teenage deaths in Thunder Bay, there is no doubt that racism is rampant in Canada, but the question still remains; What are we going to do about it? How are we going to create change for a brighter future so that all Canadians might feel safe within their own city?