Manitoba

Fear, violence 'normal' in Winnipeg's North End, activist says

New crime data from Statistics Canada that show indigenous men and women are many times more likely than non-indigenous Canadians to experience violence doesn't surprise indigenous community organizer Lenard Monkman.

Community organizer Lenard Monkman not surprised by new homicide data

Community organizer Lenard Monkman speaks on CBC Radio Thursday morning. He says it's normal for law-abiding people to fear violence in Winnipeg's North End. (CBC)

New crime data from Statistics Canada puts a hard number on what many in the inner city have been feeling for years, Winnipeg indigenous activist Lenard Monkman says.

Monkman, who has been a victim of violence and has a criminal past, is now a community organizer and co-founder of Red Rising Magazine.

"During my teenage years and for a good majority of my 20s ... you'd always leave the house on alert, always watching out in case. I think that's just part of the way it is growing up in the inner city," he said.

Aboriginal men are seven times more likely to be killed than non-aboriginal Canadians, while aboriginal women are six times more likely to be killed, says the Statistics Canada's report Homicide in Canada, 2014.

Monkman remembers his mother being worried about her sons becoming a statistic.

"These … are real fears for a lot of indigenous women out there, to be thinking of their sons like that," he said.

Victims of violence are not necessarily involved in gangs or crime, said Monkman. Anti-violence activist Michael Champagne was assaulted in 2014 and MLA Kevin Chief was mugged and had his nose broken training for a marathon in Point Douglas in 2013.

"If you look at someone like Michael Champagne, who is a community organizer, well-known in the North End, gets punched randomly on Selkirk Avenue … even if you use Kevin Chief as an example, what is the reason for somebody like that to be getting assaulted?" asked Monkman.

"I think that a lot of people growing up in the North End, whether they be male or female, a lot of people would be at risk for violence."

Adopting the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's recommendations would go a long way to addressing root causes of the attacks, said Monkman. The TRC discusses incarceration rates, the child welfare system and education, all factors Monkman said contribute to homicide rates and violence.

"I would really hope that the province adopts the TRC recommendations because it really addresses the systemic issues that we face as indigenous people," he said.

The narrative also needs to change when it comes to the victimization of indigenous peoples, said Monkman. While it's essential to acknowledge the past, he said, it's possible to understand indigenous history in Canada as a story of resilience, not victimization.

"We can draw more strength from that," said Monkman.

"I would like for people in the inner city to still be able to walk with their heads held high, regardless of whatever's happening."

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