What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear someone say, “North End of Winnipeg”?
With the first homicide of 2014 happening in Winnipeg’s North End this week, it is realistic for us to be reminded of some of the neighbourhood’s negative qualities; understandable considering recent news. But are those initial thoughts based on a recent news incident, or a chronic habit of many media outlets to let only the negative stories about this neighbourhood find their way to the headlines?
Will we be reading headlines in the coming days of how community members came together quickly to organize vigils and celebrate the life of a loved one? Will any of the courage and resilience of this family be celebrated, acknowledged or even noticed by the general public? I hope so. However, a quick Google search reveals that in current news, none of the recent stories of resilience and positivity in the North End made it onto the first page of the search results.
Something the Google search does not reveal, is that in recent months and years there has been a trend emerging in the North End of Winnipeg. A trend that has seen several citizen led volunteer initiatives spring up and continue to gain momentum into 2014.
While many individuals have criticized the large amount of social service agencies in the community as a waste of money, the actions of organizers, volunteers and activists in the North End continue to demonstrate the value of these services.
Many of these agencies and institutions have created a generation of informed and supported individuals that include the founders of several made-in-the-North-End grassroots initiatives. And although these initiatives are equipped with bannock, veggies and megaphones, this appears to be a generation of helpers who do not show up in Google searches or newspaper headlines as often as the negative stories do.
North End Movements
So what are those stories? There are too many to share in a single post, but the common threads emerging from the individuals who support these causes are courage and confidence; courage to share their gifts freely with the community and enough confidence to do so without the backing of an organization or a paycheck.
Those qualities attracted like-minded North Enders in each example allowing those residents to connect with others and collaborate on events and initiatives throughout the year. It is interesting to note all of these groups are displaying the ‘hacker mentality’ in different ways, but they are all finding inefficiencies, and challenging themselves to work smarter.
None of these examples are official agencies, have boards of directors or any paid staff to speak of . Many of these examples have upcoming events that you can get involved in and support with your time, your energy or a donation in-kind.
Meet Me @ the Bell Tower (Weekly Peace Rallies): These gatherings are spearheaded by volunteers from AYO! (Aboriginal Youth Opportunities) with in-kind support from the Indigenous Family Centre who provide the indoor space at 470 Selkirk Avenue for these events. They begin at the North End Bell Tower (Selkirk Ave at Powers St) at 6:00pm every Friday and include community announcements, sharing of stories and prizes.
Next Event: Fri. Jan. 24, 2014 @ 6pm
Got Bannock? (Weekly Feed the Hungry Initiative): At Dufferin and Main every Thursday around 1:00 pm, the smell of bannock begins to fill the air. Its all because Althea Guiboche and her team of volunteers spend Thursday mornings baking up a storm at Ralph Brown Community Centre. Got Bannock? also spawned a summer initiative called Louis Tuesdays, inspired by Louis Riel, that provided a second weekly opportunity for the public to support this worthwhile initiative at the Riel statue behind the Manitoba Legislative Building. Got Bannock? occurs weekly and is always looking for donations for baking, and soups and other delicious items.
Recent Milestones: recently coordinated first North End Winter Solstice Parade, helped Idle No More Winnipeg celebrate one year anniversary, and Althea was named as one of Ace Burpee’s most fascinating Manitobans and a Manitoba Hero.
Next Special Event: One Year Celebration – Thurs. Jan. 30th @ 1pm (Neechi Commons Parking Lot 865 Main St.)
Northend Action Group (CFS Advocacy Group): Founded by the late Jules Greyeyes, this group provided annual marches and regular opportunities to hold a microscope up to the Child and Family Services system in Manitoba. While previously very active in supporting many families through struggles with CFS, the group also known as NAG has been on a hiatus due to Jules’ passing. There have been comments shared that this group may be coming back to action in the Summer of 2014.
Next Event: Annual March for Children in Care Summer 2014
Food For Folks & Eat Street Zine: Founded by homegrown North End guerilla gardener Iain Brynjolson, this annual food cart at the Winnipeg Folk Festival has been around since 2010. They have supported a variety of North End garden related initiatives and have even been able to pull together and distribute several issues of a North End food security zine called Eat Street. Swing by their booth this year at the Winnipeg Folk Festival campground to see it for yourself and grab some fresh fruits and veggies. Iain is also the Produce Manager at the newly opened Neechi Commons on Main Street.
Online (Neechi Commons): www.facebook.com/neechi.commons
Recent Adventures: Iain was recently named the #1 Activist of 2013 by readers of the Uniter newspaper in Winnipeg.
Upcoming Event: Food For Folks Booth at Winnipeg Folk Festival July 9-13, 2014
PL8BSTRZ (Human Trafficking Group): Remember those signs on Burrows that said “Stop for a date, FB your Plate”? Well, you can thank Russell and his team for that! They began putting up those signs and reporting criminals in 2013. According to their official facebook page, PL8 BSTRZ is a ‘voluntary group effort committed to Community Outreach and Urban Betterment.’ I think it’s important for us as residents to say NO to the sexual exploitation happening on our streets and educate ourselves on the issue of human trafficking that happens in our own city.
Recent Adventures: In summer of 2013, Russell hit the national news circuit advocating for residents to stand up and keep their streets safe.
Hoop Jumpers (Feed the Homeless Initiative): This initiative began in late 2013 with the intention to give community members an opportunity to give back to the homeless. This initiative is driven by volunteers led by Christine Barker but supported by the Winnipeg Friendship Centre, Native Women’s Transition Centre and the Aboriginal Seniors Resource Centre. Volunteers are gathered first in ceremony, then in preparation of the lunches and finally go out into the community and distribute food and other needed items and gifts to the homeless in our city. In three months they have already gone out into the street on two separate occasions and held one of their very own fundraisers!
Recent Highlights: HOOP Jumpers recently had Tracy Bone and JC Campbell perform a free outdoor concert in the neighbourhood as well as partner with Got Bannock? on the North End Winter Solstice Parade & Celebration.
So while search engines, and news stories continue to see only one part of the North End, please let the actions of these individuals and groups be a testament to the fact that that is not the whole story.
The North End is a community full of strong and healthy individuals who are working together to creatively address the challenges faced by families and residents. Many people see these successes everyday; they celebrate them and are clearly motivated by them.
The difficulties are real and the residents are honest about the uphill battles they have chosen — these challenges are exaggerated when media outlets do not balance their reporting. This community may look dangerous at the moment, from the outside; but when the individuals who are touched by these grassroots movements hear “North End Winnipeg” the first thing they think of is “Hope”.