Winnipeg's mayor choked back tears as he began to address the media today about claims by Maclean's magazine that his city is the most racist in Canada.

"My wife is Ukrainian. I am Métis. I want my boys to be as proud of both those family lines — to be proud of Winnipeg, to be proud of who you are," Brian Bowman said, surrounded in the city hall foyer by prominent community leaders.

"We have come together to face this head-on as a community," Bowman added, noting that Winnipeg exists on what is traditional Treaty One territory.

Derek Nepinak

Derek Nepinak, head of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, addresses the media on Thursday. (CBC)

"We have to shine a light on it. Without the light, we can't see what we're fighting. We're not going to end racism tomorrow, but we're sure as hell going to try."

Those remarks were repeated by all the speakers at the news conference.

'This is a national problem. But there's a lot of work to be done in Winnipeg. We're ready for that.' - ​​Ovide Mercredi

Grand Chief Derek Nepinak of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs said we can no longer pretend it doesn't exist or hide from it. Echoing Bowman's comments, he said it's time to talk about it.

"I'm not here to pacify. I want people to continue to stand up and be strong," he said. "Let's have this dialogue now because we're strong enough as a society to overcome it together."

Community leaders who attended the news conference:
  • Grand Chief Derek Nepinak, Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs.
  • Jamie Wilson, treaty commissioner, Treaty Relations Commission of Manitoba.
  • Police Chief Devon Clunis.
  • ​Ovide Mercredi, former national chief of the Assembly of First Nations.
  • David Barnard, president and vice-chancellor of the University of Manitoba.
  • Annette Trimbee, president and vice chancellor at the University of Winnipeg.
  • Michael Champagne, community activist.
  • Althea Guiboche, community activist.

"I don’t believe racism is strictly a Winnipeg issue. It’s a human condition," said Winnipeg police Chief Devon Clunis, adding there is an opportunity arising from the controversial piece.

"We need to have a really difficult conversation respective of race. What will make our city special is this: that we will start this conversation [and] the City of Winnipeg can truly lead the nation and the world in terms of peaceful coexistence."


'The Manitoba capital is deeply divided along ethnic lines. Its Native citizens suffer daily indignities and horrific violence,' the Maclean's article alleges. (CBC)

The Maclean's magazine, which hit newsstands Thursday, features a cover story that claims "Canada has a bigger race problem than America. And it's ugliest in Winnipeg."

​"The Manitoba capital is deeply divided along ethnic lines. Its native citizens suffer daily indignities and horrific violence," the article states.

"This is a national problem," Ovide Mercredi countered Thursday.

"But there's a lot of work to be done in Winnipeg. We're ready for that."

Robert-Falcon Ouellette, who is First Nations and ran for mayor in Winnipeg's civic election last October, was interviewed for the article and said he tried to paint Winnipeg as a complex city with a number of issues that were no worse than any other city.

The cover treatment Maclean's gave the story is sensationalist, he said. The cover features a quote from a Winnipeg resident who says,"They call me a stupid squaw or tell me to go back to the rez."

"They used the word 'squaw,' which is very, you know, derogatory type of comment," Ouellette said. "But at the same time, I understand they need to be selling magazines and getting people interested to buy the magazine."

Ouellette has experienced racism, including during his campaign, but it's not something he sees on a daily basis. He said he believes the majority of people in the city aren't racist, but that there's always the loudmouth that stands out.