By Allison Light
Sitting at the Winnipeg Free Press daily meeting, their editorial team goes through the day’s stories. At some moments, it feels like we could be listening to news from any of our hometowns – the big sports team’s latest score, a murderer who pocket dialed the victim’s daughter after stabbing him, parents fretting over drugs in their kids’ Halloween candy. Then, they begin to delve more into immigration-related issues – raising the maximum age of children who can be brought with a refugee family from 19 to 22, and new census data showing that Manitoba could be Canada’s first majority non-white province.
From those brief headlines to our conversations with the Red River College students, today was definitely the day I met Winnipeg. In my opinion, we got the clearest reflections on the city from Bob Cox, Free Press publisher. “Winnipeggers play this game, when they meet,” he said. “Sort of, hey – how do I know you?” I’ve been amused by this presentation of Winnipeg as a small city, given that I’m from what I consider to be a small city and that only has around 200,000 people, but I suppose that’s a perception difference. His depiction of Winnipeggers as rules-followers overall was interesting, as he related it to locals’ opinions on asylum seekers versus refugee resettlement applicants. But in the evening, as we chatted over poutine with some local journalism students, they described a different Winnipeg – one that earns the title of the most violent major city in Canada, and where getting a “Winnipeg handshake” is slang for getting stabbed. Granted, that’s a comparison within the generally-safer country as a whole, but it feeds this general sense I’ve gotten from the Winnipeggers we’ve spoken to that the city is a bit of an enigma. From a question as general as “Are people getting more right-wing?” to the harmless “What are the essential Winnipegger dishes or restaurants?” residents don’t seem to have a common perception of their city.
Later in the afternoon, we visited the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network. Before touring the studio, we talked with Sky Bridges, the Chief Operating Officer of the station. Of all of the information he gave us, we latched onto a phrase he mentioned only in passing: “two-spirited” as a term for someone gay or lesbian. Sky Bridges explained that there was a lot of discussion about a proper term that could reclaim the traditional indigenous acceptance of homosexuality and express it in English. This question of updating aboriginal terms came up again when our tour guide was explaining how APTN was asked to helped with Vancouver Olympics broadcasting in 2010. Even though they found elders who could help sportscast in indigenous languages, those languages lacked words for certain newer sports, so APTN got to shape how Canada could reverse-incorporate things like Curling and Slalom while staying true to indigenous tradition. This concept of reshaping language, both by coining English words with indigenous sentiments (as with “two-spirited”) and indigenous words to adjust for new English concepts (as with the Olympic coverage) was a unique way to see how they balance their heritage while keeping up with the modern times.