Racial inclusion conversation series gets off to fiery start in Winnipeg

A group of people gathered at Circle of Life Thunderbird House on Main Street Saturday to share stories about race and inclusion in Winnipeg.

13 Fires brings Winnipeggers together to share stories, come up with solutions to racism in city

The 13 Fires Conversation Series launched Saturday at Circle of Life Thunderbird House. (CBC)

A group of people gathered at Circle of Life Thunderbird House on Main Street Saturday to share stories about race and inclusion in Winnipeg.

The 13 Fires Conversation Series is open to the general public. Organizers hope the event will bring people together to learn about the challenges people face, and what changes need to be made to make the city more racially inclusive. There will be one meeting each month for the next 12 months.
Anny Chen, one of the organizers of 13 Fires, said she wants Winnipeggers from all walks of life to feel comfortable coming to future meetings to share their life stories and to listen to the stories of others in the community. (CBC)

Michael Redhead Champagne, founder of Meet Me at the Bell Tower and Aboriginal Youth Opportunities (AYO!), said the series will get into uncomfortable territory in hopes of gaining insight into issues of racism in Winnipeg and beyond.

"It's really important for us to note that city and citizens are working together on our next steps to make Winnipeg a more racially inclusive city," he said. "The citizens of Winnipeg are very much committed to participating in, and being active in, sharing their solutions and experiences, so that we can really get to the bottom of what is happening here."

The initiative was sponsored by the City of Winnipeg Citizens Equity Committee.

During the planning stages, Champagne said organizers agreed that First Nations ceremonies ought to play a central role and be reflected in the name of the series.
Michael Redhead Champagne says the 13 Fires conversation series on racial inclusion will only be held in spaces where indigenous people feel comfortable and safe. (CBC)

"In traditional indigenous ceremonies, there's a very important role of helper, and the helpers are often fire keepers," he said. "We see ourselves, as the organizers of 13 Fires, as fire keepers, and the citizens of Winnipeg themselves are the fires."

Each event will be held at a venue that is welcoming to indigenous peoples.

"It's really important for us to be having this conversation today here at the Circle of Life Thunderbird House," Champagne said.

"It emphasizes to people that we need to have spaces where indigenous community members feel safe so that these kind of conversations can be had. If we don't support places like the Circle of Life Thunderbird House, conversation series like the 13 Fires aren't going to have opportunities to launch like this."

Organizer Anny Chen said those in attendance had a chance to meet and learn more about who is actively pursuing solutions to issues of racial inequality in the city.

"We were really excited with the diversity of voices that came today. We were also really excited with the detail people gave us," she said.

Every month, a different topic on race will be explored at the meetings, Chen said.

"For example, it might be media representation, it might be raising children as a village, it might be housing or health care," she said. "We want to invite Winnipeggers to come and share what they're doing, what they know, what their life experiences are."

Champagne said those involved with the series are focused on helping to build healthier race relations in the city.

"We have a racism problem here in Canada," he said. "We will work as hard as we possibly can over the next 12 events to ensure that these fires that have been lit here today are honoured and respected."