Injustice against Winnipeg's First Nations people is 'palpable': Lawrence Hill

​An internationally acclaimed author and former Winnipegger was back in the city this weekend, on the heels of Mayor Brian Bowman’s racism summit.

Lawrence Hill, author of Book of Negroes and former Winnipegger, visits on heels of racism summit

Internationally acclaimed author Lawrence Hill was in Winnipeg this weekend and weighed in on racism in the city. (CBC)

An internationally acclaimed author and former Winnipegger was back in the city this weekend, on the heels of Mayor Brian Bowman's racism summit.

Lawrence Hill, writer of the best-selling novel Book of Negroes, spoke at the writing festival Thin Air on Saturday, one day after Bowman held One: The Mayor's National Summit on Racial Inclusion, an event created in response to a Maclean's article calling Winnipeg the most racist city in Canada.

The CBC's Alix Cameron caught up with Hill to get his thoughts on the issue.

On the similarities between racial tension in the U.S. and Canada

"When we were witnessing all sorts of murders of unarmed black men in the United States over the last many months, a common tendency in Canada was to sort of look with sadness and pity at the problems of the United States and thereby to ignore that these same challenges exist in their own backyard."

Doesn't serve Canadians to rank cities in terms of racism

"We don't really serve our interests or move to a better place if we deny that we do have grave problems. Winnipeg, like other cities in Canada, does face serious issues of racism and injustice. I don't know that it really serves Canadians to rank Winnipeg and say that it's worse or better than another city. The bottom line is Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Ottawa, Kitchener-Waterloo, Halifax all have serious problems. It's not just Winnipeg."

Injustice is 'palpable' in Winnipeg

"Of course I observed [racism.] One of the things about Winnipeg that's fascinating is that its warts are right there to be seen. Winnipeg is a city whose problems, whose poverty, whose injustice against First Nations people is palpable. There are some parts of Canada where you sort of have to dig a little more to find these things, but in Winnipeg, it's right there on the street and you see it."

"Even the fact of violence in First Nations communities doesn't elicit as much vigorous response on the part of the media as it does if it's happening in the white community … You see this every day as a reporter in Winnipeg, and I don't think it's any secret to anybody in the city that there is a deep current of injustice here, as there is in other parts of the country."

On why he doesn't have advice for Winnipeg in tackling the issue

"I think it would be a bit pompous of me, coming from Hamilton, Ont., to start dispensing advice to the people of Winnipeg. I think the people of Winnipeg will know what to do in searching inside their own hearts to address issues of injustice, just as we have to address them in Ontario and other provinces."


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