YouthUnited@Winnipeg—Reconciliation in Action

In March of 2016, Winnipeg City Council approved an allocation of funding for two years beginning in 2017 for the YouthUnited@Winnipeg initiative. Pending approval of the 2017 budget,YouthUnited@Winnipeg will commence in May 2017 at the University of Winnipeg, Selkirk Ave. campus.

YouthUnited@Winnipeg will provide university students an intensive, inner-city summer university credit/work experience program from May through August. We anticipate initial funding from the City of Winnipeg for two-years. In addition to academic instruction in non-traditional classrooms in diverse settings throughout the city, 20 students—half from the inner city and half from suburban neighbourhoods—will be matched with a community service organization where they will be paid through our program to work for 4 days each week. Working at a community service organization will give students the opportunity to apply what they learn in the classroom, gain valuable work experience, and provide important services to the community through existing organizations.

The central theme of the work/study program will be reconciliation, drawing upon the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC). We believe this to be important because the TRC highlights the importance of youth as leaders in the process of reconciliation.

YouthUnited@Winnipeg is a great fit for the UWinnipeg and in particular for the Department of Urban and Inner City Studies, because it allows us to extend beyond our pedagogical model, connecting scholarly learning to community practice and service in the spirit of reconciliation.

The department of Urban and Inner City Studies is unique, and in many ways, we believe we are ahead of the curve in that we have been providing for several years now, a learning experience that we would describe as “reconciliation in action”.

We are unique not because we offer our courses on Selkirk Ave., there are many other great education initiatives on the street, but because we aim to bring students from different socio economic and ethnic backgrounds from different parts of the city, to learn in a community that many in our city have been taught to fear. Students with privilege are challenged to think about how they have and do benefit from their privilege. Our experience is that students from privileged backgrounds learn a great deal from students who have lived in poverty and those confronted daily with the effects of colonialism. Our inner city students tell us that the experience is positive for them because they are learning in an environment that they are comfortable in and this creates a more level playing field.

Students come to Selkirk Ave. to take courses for different reasons. Some of our students choose to major in Urban and Inner City Studies. Some take one or two electives with us. Some students want to be social workers, lawyers, kinesiologists, city planners etc. Some wish to complete their degrees and find work in a community based organization so that they can to give back to the neighbourhood they grew up in. We have had students who plan to be police officers take Urban and Inner City Studies courses and they have been surprised by what they learn from their peers. For example, one year a young non-Indigenous student interested in a career in policing sat next to a young man who had recently been released from prison. Because our classes are small and we encourage learning through respectful dialogue, these two individuals engaged in some very interesting discussions and left with a different perception of each other. This we believe is reconciliation in action.

Regardless of their reasons for studying at Urban and Inner City Studies, we know that at the end of the term each of our students will leave with a very different perspective than that which they brought through the door. Our students from the Inner City meet students from other neighbourhoods and are sometimes surprised to learn that although they come from very different experiences and in many cases have far more challenges and barriers, they are not all that different in many ways—each student shares the hope of completing their education and living full and productive lives.

Many students who come to study with us from suburban neighbourhoods describe Urban and Inner City Studies as a ‘transformative experience’, that has helped them to unlearn many of the negative stereotypes they have of Indigenous peoples and the portrayals of the North End as a place to fear. Non-Indigenous students learn much from their Indigenous peers and Indigenous students find allies in many of the non-Indigenous students they meet.

Students who come to us from suburban neighbourhoods return to their communities with a very different perspective of Selkirk Ave. and the North End and they transmit this new perspective back to their families and friend. This we believe is reconciliation in action.

Indigenous students and non-Indigenous students from across the city are building bridges across our communities and beginning to break down the divides that we know exist in our city. It is this experience that we will build upon through the YouthUnited@Winnipeg initiative.

YouthUnited@Winnipeg aligns well with Mayor Bowman’s designation of 2016 as a “year of reconciliation” as well as the City’s recognition that our city remains divided by racism. We are very pleased that YouthUnited@Winnipeg was identified in the 2016 City of Winnipeg budget as a two-year pilot program to begin in 2017 and we are pleased the Mayor and Council have agreed to provide us with bridge funding so that we can do the work required in preparation for May 2017.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission calls upon Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians to be part of the process of healing and moving forward. It emphasizes that reconciliation requires “sustained public education and dialogue, including youth engagement.” The Truth and Reconciliation Commission describes the importance of reconciliation at the community level, “where contact between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples is often minimal or marred by distrust and racism” (TRC 2015: 210).

This is what we aim to do through YouthUnited@Winnipeg.

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