Winnipeg’s North End – the good, the bad and the unspoken

Posted: January 17, 2012 in Act Locally, Winnipeg
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Winnipeg’s fabled North End, long known for its contributions to the arts, popular culture and radical politics, has always had a reputation for being a tough place to grow up. These days, however, crime, violence, gangs and poverty seem to be its defining characteristics, at least in the minds of folks who do not live there.

On January 15, 2012, the United Jewish People’s Order and the Association of United Ukrainian Canadians — organizations with deep, historic roots in north Winnipeg, held a public forum entitled “The North End – the Good and the Bad.” Their intent was to engage North Enders in a discussion of challenges they face and to highlight some of the forces for progress in the neighborhood.

Moderator: Roz Usiskin, United Jewish People’s Order

Panelists (in order of appearance):

- Sel Burrows, Point Douglas community activist
- Kevin Chief, MLA, Point Douglas and Minister of Children and Youth Opportunities
- Cindy Coker, executive director, SEED Winnipeg, Inc.
- Jim Silver, co-director, University of Winnipeg Urban and Inner-City Studies Program

It was an informative and useful discussion, as far as it went. I learned a lot. Cindy Coker and Jim Silver described some of the programs they and others are providing and the encouraging results that are emerging. Kevin Chief’s account of his election campaign showed that high levels of citizen engagement are manifesting in an area more known for political apathy. I particularly enjoyed Sel Burrows’ account of how the residents of the Point Douglas neighborhood banded together to reduce the local crime rate to levels comparable with those of much more affluent neighborhoods.

Michael Champagne challenges the audience to join with the young people of the North End who are "organizing ourselves to make a difference in our community." Photo: Paul S. Graham

That said, much was left unsaid, and I hope that UJPO and AUUC, in collaboration with other community-based organizations, offer future opportunities for discussion. Glaringly absent from this forum was any radical critique that would shine a light on the inadequacy of the social work approach to community development that seems so in vogue these days. Right at the end of the question period a young man named Michael Champagne stood up and challenged the audience to join with neighborhood youth who are self-organizing to reinvigorate their community. I hope that Mr. Champagne and others like him are on the podium the next time UJPO and AUUC hold a public forum.

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