Tuesday, September 16, 2014
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Fractured city

City has a strategic role to play in healing historic wounds

By: Kate Sjoberg

Winnipeg Free Press

I want to honour Tina Fontaine and Faron Hall, and I want everyone in this city to have prosperous lives free from fear. It is time for homelessness and violence against women, especially indigenous women and girls, to be taken seriously by the civic government and that means new strategies that will stop these tragedies from occurring and create conditions for prosperity for everyone in Winnipeg.


The way we have organized the city helps isolate and impoverish many, and contributes to endemic violence against women and girls.

This issue stems from the legacy of colonialism, and all levels of government should be acting to correct historic and current wrongs, and fully uphold treaty obligations. I want to talk about municipal governments, as I think their role is downplayed, and that we've lost our imagination about what is possible at this level.

And, Winnipeg should be leading the charge.

The situation here is unconscionable. Women I work with piece their lives together despite poverty, living under conditions of fear and violence. People shouldn't have to be brave just to get through a day.

We often hear the term "marginalized people" when talking about citizens who have less than others. Marginalization happens through a number of different actions that can be reversed, re-thought, revisited.

What if we saw each other as family? What if, as was repeated Tuesday, we saw indigenous women and girls and people who are homeless as valued human beings? What if we decided we want not just inclusion, but prosperity in Winnipeg for everyone who lives here? What would our collective actions look like?

I see many options. Here are just three.

First, let's begin with transportation.

Real freedom -- the freedom to get to a safe place, see family and friends, participate in community activities, get a job, get an education and make something of your life -- means transportation freedom. Public transportation in Winnipeg is too expensive and too time-consuming. In the winter, sidewalks aren't plowed well enough for strollers to pass, or for people with disabilities to get around. These problems mean people walk, or bike if they have one, and go where they can, which often means not very far at all.

Second: Community centres and public spaces.

They are critical resources that are under-supported, and could offer safe spaces of trust for education, healing, community action, community building. They could more fully collaborate with schools, services and neighbourhood organizations to identify and act on community needs and support families. We are far from fully engaging the centres' potential in building communities that protect and nurture one another.

Finally, let's talk about good jobs, strong services and community support.

We need to rebuild our city services. Over the past years, we've seen jobs lost and sub-par services provided as the city contracts out its work.

We have also lost municipal social workers and community service workers. Both helped to monitor program relevance, support individual families, and problem-solve at the grassroots level. When we contract out city services, or shrink their role, we lose stable, unionized jobs that pay fairly, and quality suffers.

City hall's roles in our communities are closest to our daily lives. But it seems the only discussion we have about its capacity is potholes. Potholes, and in a really bad year, frozen pipes.

Justice is what love looks like in public, says Cornel West, an American philosopher whose work focuses on race, gender and class.

Tuesday night, we saw an overflow of public love and respect for Tina Fontaine and Faron Hall. And we heard that we need to do things differently for anything to turn out differently. Finding out what happened to them is critical, and we also know that our idea of justice has to expand beyond the immediate causes of their deaths. In Winnipeg, we need to consider critical social repair as important as critical infrastructure repair. Let's stretch our ideas about the role of the city, let's make a new commitment to one another, and let's make it show through how this city works.

Kate Sjoberg is the executive director at North Point Douglas Women's Centre.

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