In this era of reconciliation we are all looking for ways to build leadership through understanding and bringing people together. We are happy to post this past article by Kevin Chief who shares stories that help engage and inspire us to see how we can make a difference. Kevin wrote this op-ed in 2014, when he was a Member of the Manitoba Legislature, after a Winnipeg Free Press/CTV poll showed that a majority of Winnipeggers agreed that the division between Indigenous and Non-Indigenous citizens is a serious issue. Currently, Kevin Chief is Vice President at the Business Council of Manitoba.
With a name like Chief, you never forget you are aboriginal. For a long time I wished it was anything else — Ukrainian or Polish. When someone asked if I was an Indian — I thought saying “yes” might mean I didn’t belong.
At school, I only wrote Kevin at the top of my assignments. Adding Chief reminded me I was wearing old clothes, that I had had a sleepless night, that I lived in a bachelor pad with an alcoholic father. Eventually, the embarrassment became a built-in sense of shame.
But there were also moments when that would go away. When I would put on an Isaac Newton School jersey and sink a basket for my team — it let me feel what it was like to give back, to have the ability to contribute — and I held my head up high.
It’s a feeling Winnipeggers from all walks of life know and embrace — our ability to contribute. Our generosity is recognized across Canada. It is rooted in a tradition of overcoming adversity and — once overcoming it — wanting to help others do the same thing.
I saw it when Mrs. Wilson was patient with me at school, when Leti, the Filipina owner of a corner store made me part of her family, when coaches at the University of Winnipeg opened the gym early for me, and I saw it when so many people mentored me as I started my career.
For decades, people have come to Winnipeg to get a new start, to build a future for their families and find belonging in a community. That has included both new Canadians from all over the world, and aboriginal people from all over the province. Still, wherever we come from, we have had those goals in common.
After a Winnipeg Free Press/CTV poll showed an overwhelming majority of Winnipeggers agree the division between aboriginal and non-aboriginal citizens is a serious issue — many of us struggled to know what it means about us as a city — I felt I should share what I see.
Aboriginal Winnipeggers are the fastest-growing segment of the middle class. All the evidence shows a big part of that success is education. This is an incredible emerging story, and Winnipeggers are recognizing it and responding. Every day and more than ever before, I meet people from businesses and unions, from the media and universities, from community groups and churches, who are trying to bridge that division.
We see the divide — but we are looking for what will bring us together.
There are two things I have become certain about. We are more connected by our vulnerabilities than by our strengths, and we can make a difference.
We have all experienced personal adversity to some degree and if it hasn’t affected us directly, we don’t need to look far back in our histories to see poverty and addictions that have created challenges in our families or network of friends.
My father had many obstacles in life, but he loved his son as much as any father could. He wanted to carry a set of burdens for me so that I would be free of them. He died when I was 18. One of the last things I remember him saying was: I want you to be proud of who you are.
I wish he could see today, that I am proud; proud of my name and proud to share it with my children. I want them to always know whoever we are and wherever we come from, Winnipeg is a city where working together we will build a future that is bright.
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