Reconciliation in our downtown core

Stefano Grande Downtown
Stefano Grande

In this Year of Reconciliation, the Downtown Winnipeg BIZ and its 1,300 members have approved a work plan that will build upon a culture that is welcoming, inclusive and based on mutual understanding and respect.

Downtown is the face of our entire city. The diversity of people, ethnicity and culture there is as rich as any in the world. Downtown is a place where our indigenous community’s culture, music, art and history strengths reside and are proudly displayed.

That’s why the Downtown Winnipeg BIZ and its aboriginal peoples’ advisory committee have launched a new initiative that invites downtown businesses to install decals with the word “welcome” translated into indigenous languages, all in an effort to create a sense of place and a feeling of welcome. Participating businesses have also been challenged to learn more about the historic and contemporary issues that relate to the treaties and what this means for our downtown today.

The Indigenous Languages Decal initiative is a powerful and symbolic initiative that celebrates indigenous arts and languages. It’s a challenge to downtown businesses to serve as an interface for greater reconciliation with the indigenous community, and in fostering dignity for all. By encouraging greater awareness of the indigenous community in our downtown, the aboriginal peoples’ advisory committee believes it will unite the community and promote cross-cultural celebration and awareness and further economic development opportunities.

Initiated in 2014, the advisory committee aims to act as a formal liaison platform between the Downtown Winnipeg BIZ’s management board and indigenous people/stakeholders. The objectives of this committee are two-fold: (a) to encourage feedback from indigenous peoples on the programs led by the Downtown Winnipeg BIZ and (b) to [encourage recognition of]acknowledge indigenous history, culture and traditions.

The advisory committee is comprised of representatives from the Aboriginal Chamber of Commerce, Manito Ahbee Festival, Red Road Lodge, Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre, the Aboriginal Council of Winnipeg, Portage Place Shopping Centre, and representatives from the BIZ’s management board. The ideas, visions and suggestions for indigenous initiatives –as well as for a comprehensive engagement with the broader community – emanates from this core group.

What has been accomplished so far?

  • A partnership with Manito Ahbee Festival was formed to help the festival reach a larger audience, inviting both indigenous and non-indigenous people to participate. This ongoing partnership signifies the BIZ’s commitment to create a truly welcoming, inclusive and accessible downtown; one that is culturally sensitive and diverse.

In the weeks leading up to the festival, the BIZ infuses its own programs with Manito Ahbee musicians, performers, and artisans. In the past, a series of lunch-and-learns were arranged to educate the business community about indigenous culture and traditions, in addition to a pow wow at the Park and an all-indigenous music stage at the BIZ’s three-day festival, ManyFest.

  • Co-hosted by the BIZ and Aboriginal Chamber of Commerce, indigenous leaders toured downtown to learn more about recent redevelopment projects, and participated in a robust discussion about downtown issues like poverty, homelessness, safety, transportation and placemaking.

This tour served as a catalyst for increased dialogue and discussion with the indigenous community regarding the BIZ’s programs and services. Some of the concrete actions that came out of this: the display of indigenous art in empty storefronts downtown; support Indigenous placemaking/wayfinding, infuse indigenous culture,arts and history in BIZ events, and facilitate conversations between indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples.

  • A series of significant ideas and strategies were outlined at a press conference this past March to address the challenges of inclusion and safety at Portage Place and in our downtown. These involved proposals for bringing communities together, building a common experience, and promoting a conversation about indigenous culture and traditions.

Portage Place committed to incorporating an indigenous component i to its security complement, with Bear Paw Security replacing the mall’s current contractor, thus providing security services that takes account of indigenous culture and traditions.

In addition, Portage Place honoured Joseph Meconse. Inducting him as its official Ogichidaa, an indigenous ambassador who will establish positive relationships and foster mutual understanding.

Our city and its future economic and social prosperity will depend on how we embrace our indigenous community. The Downtown Winnipeg BIZ is proud of the indigenous culture that is rooted in our downtown, and humbled and honoured to be part of this incredible journey toward reconciliation. Let’s continue to forge a path towards respect for all in our downtown area.

Stefano Grande is executive director of Downtown Winnipeg BIZ.

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