Hope and Optimism for Reconciliation

University practicum with United Way Winnipeg a “journey of understanding”

By guest blogger Amy Cherpako

Last spring and summer, I had the privilege of learning about the Winnipeg Poverty Reduction Council (WPRC) through my university practicum at United Way Winnipeg.  The WPRC is currently working to link private-sector employers in Winnipeg with community organizations that train Indigenous youth for jobs, through the TRC92: Youth Employment initiative.  Through this Collective Impact approach, the WPRC aims to encourage education and awareness about Indigenous culture and history among the company leaders and to support workplace education to create safe environments for Indigenous employees.

I had the opportunity to meet with the group of participating private-sector employers on various occasions, as well as with several partnering community organizations.  During these meetings, I was absolutely elated by the dedication, passion, and optimism of the employers, and the ground-breaking work that they have chosen to take on.

Youth and employers meet to talk about employment.

Youth and employers meet to talk about employment.

For me, this has been especially encouraging.  I am currently finishing a 4-Year BA in International Development and Human Rights at the University of Winnipeg, where much of my research focused on the overwhelmingly negative outcomes of colonization, including disproportionately high levels of unemployment for Indigenous youth.

Learning these truths have been crucial in my own journey of understanding Canada’s past, present, and future, and I strongly believe that widespread education and cross-sector collaboration are key to the process of decolonization.

That’s why it was heartening to witness this group of leaders in Winnipeg placing a strong emphasis on education about these deep-rooted issues, and adapting their strategies using  invaluable tools such as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report (Call to Action #92), United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), and the Seven Sacred Teachings.

I was also inspired by the devotion of the community organizations, who play a crucial role in this collaborative initiative through sharing their insights and resources with the employers, as well as forming the bridge between youth and employers.

And most importantly, I was moved by the strength and openness shown by the youth participants.  So far, I have attended two employer/youth meetings, at The Momentum Centre and Youth Employment Services (YES), including youth from RaY; Level Up!.  On both occasions, I was so impressed by the youths’ willingness to share their experiences and ideas with the employers, especially when talking about difficult issues such as trauma, discrimination, and other barriers to employment.  These conversations set up a direct channel for the youths’ voices to be heard, by people who can respond to their concerns and make tangible change within their companies.

Witnessing these exchanges sparked new hope for me, for our journey of reconciliation and decolonization.  The WPRC’s TRC Call to Action #92 Indigenous Youth Employment initiative began with a rich foundation of education and awareness building and is working step-by-step through their goals with the collaboration of employers, community organizations, and youth.  It is so refreshing to see such enthusiasm and commitment to this innovative initiative.

While it is important to realize that it will take time (even decades), acute diligence, and perseverance to create sustainable change, I truly believe that this approach has promise in Winnipeg, especially with such trailblazing, compassionate, and hard-working leaders at the forefront.