Author: nmwu

Nice Canada?

By Nicholas Wu

Brenlea Yamron, our server at “Nathan Detroit’s Deli,” was all too happy to tell us about her involvement with Operation Ezra, a Jewish resettlement project in Winnipeg, when she learned that we were in Winnipeg to learn about refugee resettlement. Juggling plates of eggs and cups of coffee, she gushed about her involvement as a member of an interfaith resettlement committee and the efforts to settle Yazidi refugees in Winnipeg. We came out of the conversation with a new contact and a potential new lead on a group to interview.

Brenlea’s display of hospitality very much played into our preexisting narrative of “Nice Canada,” or that of our northern neighbor that had opened its borders to refugees when the United States had taken a more hardline stance on immigration. “Canadians like to think of themselves as being too nice,” explained Bob Cox, the Publisher of the Winnipeg Free Press. Or, for that matter, reporters at the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network told us about the different First Nation groups that held welcoming ceremonies for incoming refugees. Later that evening, we shared some poutine with Red River College journalism students, who told us something to the same effect. But is Winnipeg truly that welcoming?

I briefly left our breakfast meeting to find a bathroom, and on the way over, I made eye contact with a woman sitting on a bench. She set down her coffee and pastry and proceeded to walk over to me and shout, “All of you Asians just need to leave me alone. Now would you kindly just go away?” I replied that I was just looking for a bathroom and beat a hasty retreat. At least she was polite about asking all of the Asians to leave.

Perhaps this woman had some kind of mental disability, which would partially excuse the display of racism, but it was still a shocking interaction to have immediately after discussing Operation Ezra with Brenlea. I’m not an immigrant myself, but I do wonder how people on the street would react to other Asian migrants, given that Winnipeg has a large Vietnamese and Filipino population. So much for “Nice Canada.”

Adding more light to the events of the day, after doing some Googling, we found that Operation Ezra had a more controversial past. A May 26 Winnipeg Free Press article by Carol Sanders detailed the complaints filed by members of the Yazidi community about the way in which Operation Ezra had selected its refugees to be resettled. According to these Yazidi community members, the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg had not actually consulted the Yazidi community about resettling refugees or selecting families to be resettled. It’s unclear what future Operation Ezra has in Winnipeg, especially if it is going to be rejected by the very community it serves.

My goal for our meetings tomorrow with different immigration officials is to get a better idea of how migrants are accepted in Winnipeg and other Canadian communities. If “Nice Canada” is illusory, then what?

At least Winnipeg is nice enough to have Tim Hortons

We’re not them

By Francesca Billington

Print journalism might be fading, but Canadian pride isn’t. Canadians often compare themselves to Americans to feel better, especially since Trump took office. But this method of comparison isn’t new.

Bob Cox, publisher of the Winnipeg Free Press, gestured towards his spacious office on the first floor, separate from offices near the paper’s other departments, to show how the company has had to rent out the nicer offices upstairs to make up lost revenue due to a drop in subscriptions. Cox moved back to Winnipeg a few years ago, taking his second job at the Free Press. His wife thinks he’s a true Winnipegian. He doesn’t seem to object.

Canadians like rules, Cox says, so they might be less accepting of asylum seekers who don’t come “legally.” Still, he says the attitude towards refugees is one of openness. “In return, we get the country we have,” Cox said. He means the diversity—and for immigrants, this means there is no one Canadian identity that they have to take up, unlike countries like Sweden, for example. This makes it easier for outsiders to “fit in.” But what they do have in common, what’s “fundamental” to Canadian history and identity, is that they are not American.

In the Winnipeg Free Press cafeteria, a series of posters titled “It’s a Winnipeg thing.” Could a non Canadian understand the references without help? I couldn’t.


In the operation room of the Winnipeg Free Press printing room, a bulletin board with tools, rules, and a scribbled over cartoon strip. The circulation of paper is about 65,000 this year. Ten years ago, it was 130,000. One worker says he thinks the paper is at the floor, but it could probably get lower.


This same “us versus them” mentality also lies at the core of the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network. Does the station report stories that mainstream networks, like CBB, wouldn’t run? That’s the point, Karyn Pugliese, Executive Director of News and Current Affairs, said. “We’re not them.”

Now, the APTN is toying with the idea of starting a station in the U.S. The station’s coverage of Standing Rock was the most followed and viewed story by U.S. readers this year Pugliese said the station probably gained many long-term viewers after that story. Much of their audience is still indigenous; Winnipeg has the highest number of First Nations peoples in any major city in Canada.

Pugliese and Cheryl McKenzie burst into laughter more than once during the Q&A. They are cheery, and think of the network as a place where the voices of indigenous people can be heard and shared. Mainstream media sources have upped their coverage of indigenous peoples and nations since the APTN was founded—CBC has even started an indigenous unit. But this doesn’t mean the network will change what it’s doing. “Why would I want a seat at their table?” Pugliese said. “I’ve got my own table now.”

A sign on the wall of the APTN control room, above (not pictured) hang rows of comics featuring First Nations protagonists.


Can a cannabis reporter save the Winnipeg Free Press?

Rolls of newspapers in the Winnipeg Free Press printing room await distribution

By Rose Gilbert

Adapting to the new media landscape has taken its toll on the Winnipeg Free Press. The newsroom is chilly and dim, the lights and heat casualties of the paper’s efforts to cut costs. More tellingly, several desks lay empty. Like many newspapers across the world, the Winnipeg Free Press’ print subscriptions have fallen, necessitating layoffs and requiring the remaining employees to perform a wider range of duties. To diffuse increased levels of stress around the office, the paper started a new policy allowing employees to bring a dog to work on Mondays and Fridays in exchange for a few dollars towards the Christmas cheer fund.

Ad inserts are assembled and inserted into newspapers in the Winnipeg Free Press printing room

Carol Sanders explains how demand for print subscriptions has fallen

But despite these challenges, the paper has worked to adapt to its new circumstances. Digital subscriptions have been very successful, although not completely able to make up for the decrease in print ones. They’ve hired new health and cannabis reporters and started offering more community events like brunches for their digital subscribers.

Finished ad inserts rise from the printing press

According to Winnipeg Free Press publisher Bob Cox, Winnipeg is “not a place that changes quickly.” Consequently, the city retains a significant number of “very good newspaper readers,” which have helped to keep the paper in business. Cox described Winnipeggers as politically middle of the road “rule-followers” who generally welcomed newcomers. He added that Winnipeggers, like most Canadians, defined their national identities in contrast to the U.S.. “The fundamental definition of a Canadian is not an American,” he said, noting that the first English-speaking Canadian settlers were loyalists who fled northward after the American Revolution. Cox added that Canadians like to think of themselves as being too nice, especially when compared to the increasingly abrasive tone of U.S. politics during and after the 2016 election. To illustrate Canadians’, and in particular, Canadian media’s somewhat smug disapproval of the Trump administration, he donned a red ballcap reading “Make CANSTAR [a community news network] Great Again” that one of his colleagues gave him.

Greg Cullen explains that printing speeds have decreased from 75,000 copies and hour to around 35,000 copies an hour in accordance with lowered print subscriptions

The Aboriginal Peoples Television Network’s brightly lit offices, decorated in shiny blue plastic and light wood, provided a stark contrast to the Free Press’ bleaker facilities. However, like the Free Press, APTN is working to modernize to compensate falling cable subscriptions. The network has a strong social media presence and is in the process of creating video on demand and online news services. APTN is also hoping to draw greater numbers of Native American and U.S. viewers, who have no equivalent indigenous television network.

Comics featuring indigenous characters in a cubicle in the APTN newsroom

Karyn Pugliese, APTN’s Executive Director of News and Current affairs, said that the network gives voice to indigenous peoples’ stories and concerns in a way that more mainstream sources don’t. “We’re already ghettoized,” she said, “ We didn’t have a seat at the table, so we built our own table.” Pugliese added that some indigenous people — defined as Maitee, First Nation, or Inuit — refuse to respond to the Canadian census as a way of rejecting a citizenship “forced” upon them by settler colonialism.

Just as many Canadians define themselves as “not American,” many indigenous people emphasize “not Canadian” as a key part of maintaining their cultural identity.

“Hey – how do I know you?”

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.

Are indigenous people the Blacks of Canada?

By Ferdose Idris 

As we stepped off the bus at APTN, Aboriginal Peoples Television Network, we noticed a man laying on a ledge about 2 feet up enclosing a walk way around the building. As we looked on he rolled off of the ledge and fell on his head. Unsure of how to proceed we moved into the building and alerted security so that they could alter the proper authorities and assist the man. As soon as we relayed this encounter to the folks at APTN they began to explain to us the legacy of the indigenous people.

Winnipeg is home to the largest indigenous population in a major Canadian city, and this community faces problems similar that that of a stigmatized minority group in North America. There are clear parallels between Blacks in the United States and indigenous populations in Canada. These stigmatized and ghettoized groups faced similar levels of cultural and institutional barriers. Indigenous people in Canada and Blacks in the United States did not receive full voting rights until the 1960’s. These two populations also experience the stripping of their native culture and languages by the State.

Today children of aboriginal Canadians are being reunified with their biological families, nearly 50 years after they were forcefully taken from their families and placed into foster homes or adopted into White homes. The “60’s scoop” (referring to the ‘scooping’ of children from their families) resulted in the loss of aboriginal children’s identity as well as mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical trauma. Today you can see high levels of socioeconomic inequality between white Canadian and aboriginal peoples in Canada. The indigenous population has suffered from higher drug usage rates, higher unemployment rates, and lower educational attainment than that of their white counterparts. This historically stigmatized and disenfranchised group has come up with creative solutions to make their voices and concerns known. APTN is one of those avenues.

As Karyn Pugliese, the Executive Director of News and Current Affairs, stated, “we didn’t have a seat at the table, so we made our own.”  APTN is now a successful and established voice of aboriginal peoples across the world. With partners in Austria, Denmark, Wales, Hawaii, and Taiwan, this network serves as a unifying voice of indigenous concerns. While APTN had some dissenting voices at its inception, voices that claimed there was no need for a channel focused on aboriginal peoples, there has been a relatively positive reception to the news organization both nationally and internationally. APTN was one of the first news organizations at Standing Rock in 2016, the site of a major confrontation between indigenous people and U.S. federal agents over an oil pipeline. APTN’s footage was picked up by major news organizations.

Are indigenous people the Blacks of Canada? They face similar social issues and historical legacies. However the reception to these groups’ claims of reparations has been highly divergent. While Canada (and Winnipeggers) have been receptive to the mobilization of indigenous groups and initiatives like APTN, Blacks in the United States have been labeled “reverse racists” when they try to advocate for a space to speak about b lack issues or have been shut down by claims that “slavery is in the past.” People will say, “yeah slavery sucked, but it no longer matters.” This could be due to the fact that indigenous people had legal documents asserting their sovereignty and designating the relationship between the Canadian government and themselves, while Blacks in the US were not afforded these same rights.

So, is Canada so different from the US? I would say yes and no. There have been similar legacies of historically subjugated populations that are currently facing similar social and economic disparities, however the response to these two claims is divergent.

First Nations Canadians frustrated by refugee welcome, but join in anyway

By Tobias Stoner

Many First Nations Canadians have been taken aback by Canada’s well-publicized warm welcome to Syrian refugees, says Karyn Pugliese, Executive Director of News and Current Affairs at Aboriginal Peoples Television Network, or APTN. “Not to be unwelcoming,” she emphasizes, “but because of a sense of ‘why aren’t people paying attention to our problems?’”

Canada’s history of relations between First Nations peoples and Europeans is long and fraught, explains Ms. Pugliese, and First Nations populations continue to face greater difficulties than white Canadians. That background, she says, casts Canada’s enthusiastic embrace of struggling newcomers as slightly hypocritical from many of the country’s original inhabitants. But Bob Cox, publisher of the Winnipeg Free Press, says “Canadians like to think they’re too nice.” And this may explain why Canadians have mostly accepted the newcomers.

Indigenous Canadians fall into three categories – First Nations, Inuit, or métis, with both First Nations and French ancestors – explains Sky Bridges, APTN’s Chief Operating Officer. First Nations peoples only received full voting rights in the 1960’s, he explains, and some people still reject their Canadian citizenship, seeking the creation of an independent state. Canada is currently holding hearings on the unresolved murder or disappearance of approximately 1600 indigenous women, an issue highlighted in APTN’s nightly newscast. Even the creation of APTN reflected the “ghettoization” of indigenous people, says Ms. Pugliese – “Back when we couldn’t get a seat at the table, we had to build our own table. Now, I don’t really want to go sit at somebody else’s table.” And Ms. Pugliese notes that the most recent government dramatically increased First Nations representation in the Canadian Parliament, to approximately 50 First Nations MP’s out of 338 seats.

APTN is proud of its imposing circular table built for its board meetings, says Sky Bridges. He emphasized indigenous traditions of welcome to strangers or other races. Many First Nations traditions, he says, include the symbolism of a wheel with four colors – white, black, yellow, and red – representing different races sent out into the world, as well as an aspiration to unify them. Ms. Pugliese also added that at least three indigenous communities have held welcoming ceremonies for refugees, and elders have helped to coordinate donations for them, though she notes that the ceremonies also helped to raise publicity about First Nations communities. This welcoming stance may also be influenced by the general identification of indigenous people with leftist parties, says Ms. Pugliese, partly because of a total lack of outreach or availability from Conservative politicians.

Ultimately, the First Nations response to new refugees may not be very different from that of Winnipeggers in general. Assimilation in Canada is made easier, says Mr. Cox of the Free Press, because “we don’t have something called a Canadian that you have to become.” In some ways, he says, the “fundamental definition of a Canadian is to be not American.” At a moment of rising xenophobia in the US, that may be good news for anyone seeking asylum, and a new home, in Canada.

Who are the nice guys?

An old copy of the Manitoba Free Press, now the Winnipeg Free Press

By Kieran Murphy

“We’re proud that we’re not Donald Trump.” That was the immediate reaction of Winnipeg Free Press publisher Bob Cox when asked about Canadian political identity. He adds that there is a marked difference in policies related to immigration and refugees. Canadians like to think of themselves as the “nice guys,” he says. Nowhere is this contrast more evident than in Winnipeg, where until months ago, Haitian nationals were streaming across the US-Canada border because their temporary protected status was ending in the United States.

Advertisement pages are printed at the Winnipeg Free Press at a rate of 30,000 per hour.

Student journalist, editor, and photographer extraordinaire Francesca Billington snaps an action shot of the Winnipeg Free Press print room.

Kit Muir, a Winnipegger and journalism student at Red River College, echoed Cox’s sentiment. She noted that in her experience, Americans have a reputation for unfriendliness, a Twitter-happy leader, and poor relations that she is happy to avoid as a Canadian.

Muir acknowledges that Canada has its own problems not so different from America’s, but she believes that on the whole Canada has done better on these issues than the United States. While we were discussing race relations in America, she likened the racial history of African-Americans to that of indigenous people in Canada. She noted that “First Nations in Canada are where black people are in America,” whereas everyone else – recent immigrants included – more or less stood on an equal playing field.

Bashir Khan, a lawyer we spoke to on Sunday night, believes that indigenous people and refugees are both almost exclusively “othered” in Canada.

The set of APTN National News, minutes before broadcast.

Karyn Pugliese, Executive Director of News and Current Affairs at Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN) added more examples. We toured APTN, Canada’s only nation-wide television channel focusing on indigenous people, and asked Pugliese if she believed that having an aboriginal television station only served to ghettoize aboriginal people. She responded “We are already ghettoized.”

Many of our speakers brought up the guilt that many non-indigenous Canadians have for the way indigenous people have been treated. But all acknowledged that efforts to atone for grievances committed are too little too late.

For college student Muir, “acknowledgements,” a common practice at the beginning of official Canadian events noting that the event is taking place on indigenous land, seem like empty gestures without concrete action to rectify atrocities toward indigenous people. Pugliese felt the same way about Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Muir also noted that Manitoba’s government refuses to call acts committed against indigenous people “cultural genocide,” a label that in her view, would be simple, accurate, and according to the wishes of the First Nations in Manitoba. This refusal invites comparisons to the refusal of many in the United States to say “black lives matter.”

The deep-seeded issues in Winnipeg don’t stop there.

A flood five years ago still leaves hundreds of poor residents homeless. Educated youth are leaving faster than people are having children. A race problem that lurks below the surface to many people is all too obvious for others. The more I talked with Winnipeggers, the more Winnipeg seemed to face many of the same problems as small towns in the United States.

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