Stephen Kakfwi stands with Winnipeg mayor against racism

Former N.W.T. Premier Stephen Kakfwi stood with Winnipeg's mayor, Brian Bowman, as he addressed the media after his city was declared the most racist in Canada by Maclean's magazine. Kakfwi says the North 'has something to teach the rest of the country.'

Stephen Kakfwi was visiting Winnipeg with advocacy group Canadians for a New Partnership

Winnipeg mayor Brian Bowman addresses the media following Maclean's claim that Winnipeg is the most racist city in Canada. He was joined by former N.W.T. premier, Stephen Kakfwi, second from left. (CBC)

Hours after Maclean's magazine published a story charging Winnipeg, Manitoba, as the "most racist city in Canada," mayor Brian Bowman pledged to face the issue head-on, choking back tears as he addressed the media flanked by community leaders.

Though most of the leaders present represented the city, province, and local First Nations, eagle-eyed viewers from the North saw a familiar face standing directly to Mayor Bowman's right: former N.W.T. Premier Stephen Kakfwi.

Kakfwi was in Winnipeg to meet with the city as part of his work with advocacy group Canadians for a New Partnership, which is dedicated to strengthening Canada through a new partnership between indigenous and non-indigenous Canadians.  

"It was spontaneous," said Kakfwi. "I wasn't supposed to meet him until 12:30 [the next day], but... we dropped everything and we went over to city hall."

Kakfwi says he was impressed with Winnipeg's young mayor, himself of Métis descent, as he faced the city's issues head-on.

"It wasn't to bash Maclean's magazine," he said. "It was to say that we have a problem, it doesn't matter if we are the worst or the least in the country. It's there, let's face it, and commit to work together to address that.

"This mayor, and so many other leaders here in Winnipeg, are going to help to make sure there are real measures being made to do good things together."

Northern lessons

Kakfwi, who was born in Fort Good Hope and is Dene, was the premier of the Northwest Territories from 2000 to 2003.

He said there are many lessons to be learned from Canada's northern territories when it comes to addressing racism, citing a specific incident from the 1970s.

"Way back after the pipeline was defeated in the '70s by young militants like myself, the business community was angry, bewildered," he said. "A lot of non-aboriginal people in the North were wondering 'what in the hell just happened?' And we had a conference.

"And [former Hay River mayor] Red McBryan came up to me, and I was ready for a fight. And he said: 'You know, I listen to you on the radio. I don't agree with a lot of things you say. But I'm here at this conference for two days, and I'm going to listen to you.'

"He made an offer. He was going to listen. And that's the way it is in so many places across the North. We all know how to reach out to each other and make agreements.

"The North is different from everywhere else. We have something to teach to the rest of the country."

No coincidence

Kakfwi says that the timing of his meeting with mayor Bowman was no accident. 

"There's a reason that I was there," he said. "There's a reason this young mayor was elected, there's a reason why he called out and said: 'I don't want to be alone, I want you here when I face this story.' And we turned it into something positive and said 'we'll do it.'

"Racism is born out of fear. It's born out of people who are angry, people who are not confident, who need to put others down, who make judgments out of ignorance.

"And the closer you bring people together — the more you bring people together — the less present it is."


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