I’ve been browsing through the past few issues of The Nation to catch up on events I missed whilst away from La Belle province on business.
It’s fun and kind of weird to read through the magazine when you haven’t been involved in putting it together from start to finish. You get a good idea of how readers feel when it first lands on their doorsteps (so to speak). The stories are fairly tame in comparison to the ones in the city of Winnipeg’s Sun and Free Press or even in the numerous weeklies serving that fair city.
For several days running the Sun ran stories of several flashers flashing their wares just down the street from us. One of the exhibitionists, it was reported, weighed 300 pounds. In another story police were said to be investigating a series of suspicious house fires spread out over the city. No wonder they were suspicious. There were a reported 2,700 fires this year alone, up from 1,700. One of them just three doors from us during our stay. We chased a firetruck on two calls but they were both false alarms.
In another story with a crime-in-Win-nipeg angle, the US TV show America’s Most Wanted featured the story of a man who had passed through Winnipeg, raped a woman and disappeared. That next morning he was arrested in Calgary and shipped back in chains. And that was all in the first week. He was later released on a technicality.
Winnipeg is a tiny city with metropolitan troubles and, all too coincidentally, the highest Native population in the country. 70,000 Cree, Anishnabe, Saulteaux, Metis make up 10 percent of the city’s total population. Which is partly the reason why we were in the city in the first place.
Most Native people live in the “North End.” With it’s tree lined streets it looks like any other neighbourhood except for the graffiti, boarded up businesses, the down and out, screaming sirens, sniffers, young and old prostitutes on street corners and johns circling like vultures in automobiles. Two families we got to know intimately have no choice but to live in this part of town.
Paul, his wife Jane, his son Paul and daughter Sharmeen live in one of the worst areas. Another son has fled the gang to a nearby reserve, another is trying to make it on his own on welfare, one more boy they haven’t seen in months could be still in the gangs.
Everyday Paul, Jane and the kids look outside their window and see prostitutes and johns conducting business. A crack house is a block or two up their street. Two years ago, someone fired a shotgun through their living room window in the middle of the night. They made then the decision to move away. But the $23,000 offer they got for their house wasn’t even half the house’s worth. Not far from their block a small house was on sale for $13,000. So there they live waiting to sell the house and move.
Another family lives not too far away. Marie and her husband Lang rent a tiny house with their six young kids. Marie still lives with memories of a hellish childhood in an abusive alcoholic family. Lang is a victim of the forced adoptions of Native children in the 60’s and 70’s. Add to that their two eldest daughters were beaten by girl gangs they call wannabes two nights in a row. They have also made the decision to leave and find a better home. But without jobs and little prospects they have little to choose from and so look for one they can afford just blocks away.
Why am I telling you about these hard luck stories? They will be broadcast in adocumentary on Newsworld next year. (The film, by the way, has gone through four titlechanges and none have stuck yet, so we’ll keep you posted.)