Friday, 3 July 2015

Youth Voice in Building More Inclusive Cities

By Adesuwa Ero, 1st year MDP student

One project which I was involved in during the first couple of weeks of my field placement at International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) was an Indigenous youth roundtable.  Youth were brought together to discuss their dreams about a future Winnipeg and ideas on how to enhance the social, environmental and economic well-being of our city. The roundtable was facilitated by the Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre Inc., and is one of a series of roundtables currently going on across the Canada as part of an initiative of the Cities for People group.

Adesuwa (centre), Sharon Redsky (on her left), Pauline Gerrard (sitting at far left) with youth and their coordinators

The event really resonated with me as there were a number of overarching issues that stood out based on feedback, highlighting the seemingly little things that are prevalent in the city and are not receiving adequate attention or basically are being overlooked. My mentor Pauline Gerrard and I representing the International Institute for Sustainable Development assisted with facilitation and it was indeed an enlightening experience.

Youth at Ma Mawi Roundtable
Listening to the youth speak with such eloquence and enthusiasm about issues they identified as plaguing Winnipeg, I saw a young population who are very much aware of their city. I recall one of the youth coordinators correct one of the youth saying “we don’t use the word Aboriginal anymore, just as the word abnormal is offensive, so is Aboriginal.” Sincerely I had never, up until that day, thought of it that way. It got me thinking of how society labels things/people and the profound effect that could have on how society sees them and how they see themselves. Sometimes they may genuinely come out of a good place without knowing how the receiving party is taking it or what they attach to such labels.
Reflecting on the issues that were raised at the roundtable discussion, the subject that struck me the most was racism. I believe amongst other things, racism is very crucial not just to Winnipeg as a city but to Canada as a whole. According to Statistics Canada 2011, Winnipeg has the highest indigenous population than any city in Canada, with a growth rate of 20% within 2006-2011, on a national scale, the indigenous population grew by 20% between 2006 and 2011, compared to only 5% for the non-Aboriginal population. The indigenous population increased at a rate 4 times faster than the mainstream population. We all talk about sustainable development and how we can grow as a people and as a global community. The truth is, addressing these issues locally will have far reaching positive implications, not just for Canada but on a global scale.

Youth doing an energizer during the Roundtable
I heard the youth speak about their experiences with racism mostly in schools, their teachers' lack of knowledge of indigenous history, the derogatory name calling, and systematic racism. This reflects a huge disconnect between people living in the same community. It is a fact that just sustainable development will not happen in Canada if this issue is not adequately addressed. Not only does the government have a role to play, but as individuals living in the society, it is our duty to cleanse ourselves of all forms of stereotyping and start working collegially in making the world a better place. Having discussions like this is a important step in starting a conversation about our city, a platform for the young to influence major decisions that impact them, their families and the city.

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