Bringing urban studies to North End aims to build ties between Indigenous and non-Indigenous students

Jim Silver helped bring the University of Winnipeg's Urban and Inner City Studies department to the North End in 2010 and it just recently moved to a new site at Merchants Corner, sharing space with high school and local community programs.

Jim Silver helped move his University of Winnipeg department to inner city in effort to break down segregation

Jim Silver has been fundamental in bringing post-secondary education to people in Winnipeg's North End. (Lenard Monkman/CBC)

Jim Silver grew up in a racially divided neighbourhood, but he didn't know it at the time.

"Part of our neighbourhood was, I now realize years later, a Métis community," said Silver.

He grew up in Winnipeg's Fort Garry neighbourhood and lived near the former Métis community Rooster Town.

"The Métis kids hung out over here, non-Métis kids over there," said Silver.

Silver's dad worked in northern Manitoba and told him stories about what it was like playing baseball and working with First Nations people in the north. It was a relationship with Indigenous people that he heard about, but wasn't able to experience for himself until he was an adult.

"You can grow up in the suburbs and never come to the North End," said Silver.

"We have to break down that segregation. Break down those barriers that exist."

Creating spaces that bring people together

Now, Silver is a professor at the University of Winnipeg's Urban and Inner-City Studies department.

He started doing academic research in the North End more than 20 years ago, with a specific focus on poverty. That was how he got his own start on building relationships with people in the North End, which has a large Indigenous population.

Jim Silver's act of reconciliation 3:35

He helped bring the Urban and Inner City Studies department to the North End in 2010. The program started off in the basement of the Urban Circle and just recently moved to a new site at Merchants Corner, sharing space with high school and local community programs.

"Many of our students from the main [University of Winnipeg] campus, when they come to take classes here, are in the North End for the first time in their lives.

"We need to consciously think about creating spaces that bring Indigenous and non-Indigenous people together."

The Merchants Corner is an education hub complete with student residences, classrooms, and non-profit organizations. (Lenard Monkman/CBC)

He said the students get to know each other inside the classroom, and the goal is to try and get the student ratio at the program to 50 per cent Indigenous, 50 per cent non-Indigenous.

"They develop relationships; they know each other on a social level," he said.

"That happens surprisingly rarely in this in this city. It happens here at Merchants Corner daily. I think that's a big step forward as well."

Bridges in education

At 35, Aja Oliver finished her high school diploma at Kaakiyow li moond likol Adult Learning Centre. She is now a student in the Urban and Inner-City Studies program.

Kaakiyow is an adult education program in Winnipeg's North End that Silver also helped to develop. Oliver said she is grateful to have the opportunity to further her education inside of the community she grew up in, and gives credit to Silver for starting the education programs.

Aja Oliver finished high school and is attending university thanks to the programming efforts of Silver. 'He's helped me with a lot of things,' said Oliver. (Jonathan Ventura/CBC)

While doing consultations on what the programs should look like, she said Silver didn't start off with pre-determined ideas.

"He goes out there and he talks to the people," said Oliver.

"He's very interested in the effects of colonization and he is very knowledgeable of what our people are going through and looking for ways to turn it around and to help us succeed."

Silver said for any reconciliation to occur in Canada, the "truth" aspect of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission needs to be emphasized and non-Indigenous people need to reach out and get to know Indigenous people.

"For those of us who are non-Indigenous, developing those relationships is something that requires some care," he said.

"It requires some time. It does require being respectful and not wanting to be or trying to be the leader but rather being part of the collective activity."

June is Indigenous History Month in Canada and @cbc wants ​to share stories of Canadians who are repairing and building relationships with Indigenous communities. Tell us what reconciliation looks like in your day-to-day life and we'll share your story. Send your self-recorded video to: