Can Good People Participate in Systemic Racism?

Introduction by Aly Raposo

Welcome to the Anti-Racism Speaker Series put on by the City of Winnipeg's Equity Office and partnership with the Human Rights Committee of Council.  Thank you for joining us on the United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.  My name is Aly Raposo, and I am the coordinator for the Human Rights Committee of Council.

Let me begin with the Treaty Land Acknowledgement.  We gratefully acknowledge that we work and reside in Treaty One Territory, the home and traditional lands of the Anishinaabe, Ojibway, Ininew, Cree and Dakota Peoples, and in the National homeland of the Red River Metis.  Our clean drinking water comes from Shoal Lake, 41st Nation in Treaty 3 Territory.

Before we begin, I have a few housekeeping items I want to let everyone know.  The City of Winnipeg is recording the session for educational purposes.  Questions posed by participants are included in what is recorded.  This collection of personal information is authorized under Section 30-1B of the Freedom of Information, and Protection of Privacy Act, and will be used for continued informational and educational purposes.  It will not be used or disclosed for any other purposes unless required or permitted by law.  And if you have any questions, please contact the Corporate Access and Privacy Officer.  A recording of today's event will be made available on CityNet as well as  We will be discussing Anti-Racism in the City of Winnipeg once the keynote is complete, you'll have an opportunity to ask questions of your expert.  If you have any questions you'd like to be addressed today, you can submit by using the “Ask a Question” in Microsoft Teams event.  You can choose to ask it anonymously by making sure to select that option before clicking “Send”.  We will make every effort possible to ask all applicable questions during our time here today.  For anyone wishing to turn on the closed captions and subtitles, please select “Captions Subtitles” on in your video controls, you will see a small box with CC written in it.  To change the caption language from English to French, select “Settings” then “Caption Subtitles” and choose the language you want, then “Setting” button.  The setting button looks like a wheel or a cog.  If you lose your connection to this event.

Alright, let’s get started, but first we have a special guest.  Mayor Bowman is here to provide greetings and introduction to Cecil and his keynote today.  Mayor Bowman and I work closely on the Human Rights Committee of Council that has been created in 2018.

Greetings and Guest Speaker introduction by Mayor Brian Bowman

Thanks very much Aly, and thanks for getting us going on the right note.  This morning and I guess this afternoon I hope everyone had a great weekend.  It's great to join you all here today as everyone should know today is the United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.  And I want to begin just by highlighting some of the steps that we've taken at the City of Winnipeg to combat racism.  In 2015, shortly after our first elected with them a lot less gray hair than I have right now, Winnipeg was the focus of an article naming Winnipeg as Canada's most racist city.  A lot of debate in our community about the headline, and regardless of the views in our community of the article itself, racism was and continues to be an issue in Winnipeg and across our country.  I'm proud of the steps we've taken that have transformed our community from one questioning the very existence of racism to one that has acknowledged systemic racism, and is actively working to become a leader in combating it.  It started with the creation of the mayor's indigenous Advisory Circle.  Shortly after that, Winnipeg hosted one the mayor's national Summit for Racial Inclusion.  2016 was declared the Year of Reconciliation and later that year work began on the city's first ever indigenous Accord.  This was unanimously adopted by City Council.  I want to commend my Council colleagues for that and saw the first signing ceremony in 2017.  In 2018, I was reelected on a platform that included promoting Winnipeg as an international leader for the protection and promotion of human rights.  The country's first ever Human Rights Committee Council was created that year with its first meeting coming in 2019.  In 2020, the efforts of the Human Rights Committee of Council resulted in the creation of a Newcomer Welcome and Inclusion Policy, which is now helping enhance the lives of newcomers to our community.  Also, in 2020 came the introduction of training on Anti-Oppression, Anti-Racism and cultural competency for city staff.  In 2021, the City of Winnipeg hosted an Anti-Racism week to start a conversation of a city without racism.  We've come a long way, I'm really proud of how we've transformed the conversation in our community and delivered tangible actions to combat racism.  And thanks to the strong foundation built through these initiatives combating racism will continue to be a priority for the city of Winnipeg now and into the future.  And that's really important because a safe inclusive city for all means a city that we're all proud to call home.

It gives me a great pleasure to introduce the City of Winnipeg, Manager of Indigenous Relations Cecil Sveinson, who will be providing today's keynote address, the title of which is “Can Good People Participate in Systemic Racism?”.  For those of you who don't know, Cecil began with the city in 1992, was a Police Officer where he remained for 25 years and took over the Indigenous, diversity and human rights, training, programming, and outreach for the Winnipeg Police.  Cecil's work was held up as a best practice nationally.  He was asked to serve as adjunct professor, or sorry adjunct faculty, for the Canadian Police College, where he assisted in the design and delivery of Indigenous training for officers nationally and internationally.  After retiring, Cecil was called upon to assist Senator Murray Sinclair with his investigation into systemic racism and the Thunder Bay Police Service Board.  In April of 2021, Cecil returned to the city to take on the role of Manager of Indigenous Relations, and that's where I've gotten to know Cecil and his commitment to the topic that he's going to speak about first hand.  He's been doing amazing work in the role since the Indigenous Relations Division is mandated to provide leadership and experience from an Indigenous perspective on civic programs services, and initiatives that support and address the needs of Winnipeg Indigenous community now and into the future.  As Manager of Indigenous Relations, Cecil is leading the way on initiatives like Winnipeg's Indigenous Accord, and Welcoming Winnipeg.  And we're very lucky to have him in that role.  Our community is lucky and our municipal government is lucky to have him in the role.  I'm really looking forward to hearing his comments today, and listening and learning from him.  We're really grateful for the work that he's done and he's continuing to do on behalf of the city, so if you could please join me in welcoming Cecil.

Keynote Address by Cecil Sveinson

Thanks very much, merci, and miigwech.  Thank you worship.  Abuja Against popular river.  Girl, you just jump right in and go to, I know they say that power corrupts and PowerPoint corrupts absolutely.  So here I go, I'm jumping right into my PowerPoint here comes.

So this is me, as the Mayor says, I'm the Manager of Indigenous Relations.  I inherited a group of seven wonderful brilliant people who tirelessly work hard for the Indigenous community.  My entire staff are Indigenous themselves, so we are from the community working for our community, and also the citizenry at large of Winnipeg.  I just want to acknowledge my team, brilliant, wonderful, hard-working people.  As the Mayor said, I served 25 years with the Winnipeg Police Service.  I retired as a patrol sergeant in presentations like these.  I like to include a picture of me because a lot of people don't believe that I actually was a Police Officer, that I had braids and I worked on the street looking like that.  These are some of the awards that are received in my time with the service.  The one that I'm most proud of is the two at the bottom there, in 2011 I was named Dimension Magazines Aboriginal advocate of the Year, and in 2013 I was named Cultural Educator of the Year by Manitoba Aboriginal Circle of Educators.  That meant a lot to me because they were acknowledging the workplace work that I did with the Winnipeg Police Service, and police officers around the country.  As indicated by the mayor through the Professional Development Center for Indigenous Policing at the Canadian Police College, I assisted in the design and delivery of the Indigenous Gang Reduction Strategies course, the integrated approaches to interpersonal violence and abuse course to tackle the issue of domestic and relationship violence in our communities, and then the professional ethics for police officers.  And this was a comment to the Office of Ethics, Integrity and Anti-Corruption that model of the ethics training is still pin us nationally by the building.

Here we go, we jumping right in.  So I have a lot of personal experience with systemic racism, and it starts with my name that is not the name that I was given by birth.  I'm a child, I'm a product of the 60s scoop I don't use the term “survivor”, although at one time I did refer to myself as more of a “thriver”, so I was born under a completely different name.  So the 60’s scoop was that next level of assimilation after the federal government started shutting down the residential schools, and so the idea was that the Indian problem has it was turned over to provincial child welfare agencies, and the Indigenous children were apprehended and adopted out into white society, and very little was done.  With regard to thought of intercultural adoption and the effects that it would have on folks, just like me, so that name that I get icari now this day is Cecil August Swanson.  That was given to me Cecil August Swanson, senior of my dad, lacked imagination from the Interlake and Moosehorn Manitoba.  He named me after him, and he grew up in a time and place where he had to hide Indigenous roots. And he came to be proud of being Indigenous as a result of having someone who's so obviously Indigenous.  And I do have to acknowledge that this picture was taken in 1986, and the mullet was in fact in fashion at that.

I also have some personal experience with failures of systems, and the one that most people regard.  It's forever tied to my name, is if you Google me that amber inquiry invariably comes up.  Crystal Tamil was my cousin, and she was on her way to work, and she was killed by a drunk off-duty Winnipeg police officer because I had some questions regarding that and I testified at the inquiry.  My name is synonymously tied to the Tamil inquiry, and that event changed my career path.  If you would have asked me that morning before prior to me hearing about what happened to Crystal, I felt that my career pathways that would have paid police.  I felt that I was going to be the first indigenous police chief for the City of Winnipeg.  And as a result of the events that happened that day, my career path changed forever and that didn't happen.  But if there is any question, people have any questions as to failures of systems. I invite you to ask Crystal’s children and the grandchildren that Crystal never got to meet if the system failed them.

I also have professional experience investigating systems.  The first was when my last year prior to retirement, I was sick and it was the only serving officer that was seconded to the Independent Investigation Unit where I investigated corruption and wrongdoing the police officers.  After retirement, I spent some time developing cultural and prevention for Southeast Child and Family Services, and then Senator Sinclair was asked to look at the systemic racism of the Thunder Bay Police Services Board, and I was asked to assist with that investigation.  I was honored to do so because I regard Senator Sinclair is not only a mentor, but an elder, and I wouldn't be where I am if it wasn't for the Aboriginal justice inquiring the recommendations that they're more Indigenous officers.  I'll talk about that a bit more shortly.

Before I proceed further, I have to acknowledge that I do carry privilege.  You know, as your presenter, I have some privilege, the first being male privilege.  You know, I acknowledge I come from a male dominated profession in policing where women of all races have to work twice as hard to get half the respect and acknowledgement of their male cohorts.  I also have cisgender heterosexual SIS hep privilege that you considered that is the norm.  That is the default in talking to people, and talking to a male person the default is that I would be SIS hat, and I certainly AM, and my pronouns are he and him.  I also have urban privilege in that I grew up and have lived my whole life in the city of Winnipeg, something I'm very proud of.  I grew up in Elmwood and now I live in Fort in the Fort right region, but I have that comes with privilege.  One of the privileges is that I can turn on the faucet and I have clean water thanks to Shoal Late 41st Nation, as we heard in the land and water acknowledgement.  And I have access to services and these are things that are very different than the life of those in my home.  In my own home community of Poplar River First Nation, which is on the Eastern Shore of Lake Winnipeg, beautiful territory but limited access to services.  So I do have urban privilege.  I also have economic privilege in that as a pensioner and I have a pension and making a second income now with my time back at this city I do very well, and so I with that curious economic privilege.  And another strange privilege that I have that I've had to come to acknowledge is that I have White surname privilege.  That name Sveinson quite very often throughout my life.  I've heard you don't look like no swings, and I've ever met very white sounding name, Icelandic name.  And I have to wonder in my life how many times have I applied for a job, have I applied for a loan, have I applied to rent a home and apartment were because of my surname.  I got that magic checklist and I got that apt., I got that loan, I got that job interview whereas if I had a very Indigenous sounding surname like comma, maybe that wouldn't be the case and I know of for instance.  Some HR folks who told me about a time where that was common practice were Indigenous sounding names, or depending on what type of area of the town they were in, they were those applications were thrown in the garbage.  So, I do have to acknowledge my privilege, and where I'm coming from and doing my presentation.

By the end of this session, participants should be able to define systemic racism, provide historical examples of systemic racism, and I've already provided you one, provide current examples of systemic racism, and define and provide examples of microaggressions.

So why do we need to have these discussions?

Unfortunately, when you say “I don't see colour”, well, the response from the community from Indigenous, Black and Persons of Colours is that you refuse to acknowledge our reality.  And when you say our Indigenous people, the Indigenous responses “you don't own us”.  And that's unfortunate that a lot of people, even though throughout the years I've been coaching leaders of all sorts about this, some choose to dig their heels.  And then they still use that possessive term and it does not go over well with community Indigenous community leadership.  And whence invariably, when a leader has to get up in front of the cameras of the media and they have to talk about some wrongdoings by you of their employees.  Often we hear them say it's unfortunate that a few bad apples, and then they go on to explain ruins the good work of you or other employees type thing.  Now the problem with the Bad Apple Theory is how the community looks at it is even if your apples were perfect, if you are putting them to a barrel that is systemically flawed it doesn't matter.  Those perfect apples would automatically be painted.  And then when you say “all lives matter” in response to Black Lives Matter, this derails the specific conversation about the racism against Black People.  These phrases seem to dismiss, ignore, deny these problems.  It shuts down this very important discussion and it is now being associated with white supremacy, and if we don't do this work.  And I'm grateful that the mayor he listed all of the work that the city is doing, and I'm grateful to that mayor had the courage to take the bull by the horns and say this is an issue we must deal with because if we don't do this work.  And I'm grateful l for, I have nieces and nephews that they teach me a lot their community activists there, Anti-Racism activists, their land defenders, and through social media and just conversations.  And I've adopted these young people on ceremony.  Biologically, they're not my relatives, but I see a post on their wall and I talked to them about it.  So this is one that I saw that's on there, and it's just the other side of the coin what those young people are thinking and when we do our land acknowledgements if we're not doing anything else.  If we just do that, well unfortunately, they that this is just moral exhibitionism.  So I'm proud to say that we are actually doing our work, and by doing talking about these difficult subjects throughout the week, that we here at the city of Winnipeg are doing our work and going beyond just moral exhibitionism. 

Again, learning from those young people, I saw this post and from time to time in doing work with activist community leaders, folks from the community and elders, you will occasionally get called in meaning that they will give you heck about something you should be happy if somebody calls you out on your behaviour, and now they're calling in because it's showing that they care enough about you.  So it may be hard to swallow that someone holding you accountable is trying to hold you accountable, but you gotta understand it's not the same as someone at packing.  And unfortunately, a lot of people feel that way.  This is especially true when we start talking about racism doing Anti-Racism work.  If someone tries to address you for behaviour that may be racist, we’re talking about behaviour, but the second that we start we say that something was racist, then people say you are saying that “I am racist” and they shut down because you are saying “I'm a bad person” when really we are talking about the behaviour. 

Here's an example.  I get in and out, I take an elevator every day that I go to my office at 510 Main.  I stand with my back to the wall regardless of how many people are in the elevator with me.  The reason why is because I have had women touch my hair and comment about it.  Even saying going so far as saying “you're lucky I don't have my scissors today”.  In my culture, my hair, all of the teachings from the elders, my family, my kids, and now my grandkids are in my hair.  The only time that I would cut my hair is in the time of a loss.  Then we cut that off and we put that the casket, and it said that when that loved one goes before creator, the last... What did you teach your child and they would show creator this as what they thought.  So this is very sacred to us for someone to touch that it's tantamount to an assault to us.  It's very serious.  So for me to address that as racist behaviour because it doesn't make me feel good.  It makes me feel like somebody petting me like I'm less than, and that they can just place their hands on me.  They take that as the attack when really they've already attacked me, and you atly greatly in my beliefs and people from my belief system.  They do believe they've assaulted me.

Systemic racism, racism defined and there's a lot of different definitions all over the place, but this is the one that I'm going to go with today.  And basically it comes down to organizational policy and procedures that exclude displaced, marginalized, some racialized groups, and create unfair barriers for them to access valuable benefits and opportunities, like for instance getting hired by an organization receiving funding, that type of thing often the result of these biases.  In policies and procedures they may appear neutral, but have the effect of privileging some groups and disadvantaging others.  So for instance, in some job for some professions the expectation is that somebody arriving for a job interview would be wearing a suit and tie.  What if somebody is poor and they can or cannot afford a suit and tie?  Does that place the matter data disadvantage, and I can tell you that was the expectation very strongly felt within the Winnipeg police. at one time, until we have to look at that and examine that when we were doing our bias free selection work.

The problem with doing any Anti-Racism work in systemic racism work and looking at it and talking about it is that people tend to get hung up on the definition.  As the premier of Quebec did in response when asked about systemic racism in response to what the tragedy of what happened to Joy Szechuan at the Quebec hospital where she died.  On social media, live broadcasting that she was being mocked by nurses and basically she was ignored to death.  And Premier Legault says he goes to Lipitor, Uber which is the French dictionary, and he defined he reads up.  This is what systemic is relative to a system in its entirety so he says, “is there something on high that is commuted everywhere in the health system that says be discriminatory in your treatment of indigenous people?”  It's evident for me the answer is, and he often doubled down on that.  We have no systemic discrimination in go back 'cause he was going back to this dictionary definition and his interpretation.  So sometimes your growth in this regard is public and this same thing happened June 10th, 2022.

RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucky, and she was being asked about is there systemic that question was put to her.  “Is there systemic racism in the RCMP?“  This isn't this is in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd by a Minnesota police, Minneapolis police officer.  In the aftermath of an Inuit man having his head slammed in a doorway and caught on video and broadcast it through social media by an RCMP member, and then in Alberta chief being arrested and choked by RCMP officers again on video.  So she was asked about this and again she goes back to, “I'm struggling with the definition” and she says “you there is unconscious bias” but she wouldn't say that there was systemic racism.  Unfortunately, the Prime Minister Justin Trudeau one day later had to jump in and admitted, and he states systemic racism is an issue right across the country and all of our institutions, including our police forces and including the RCMP?...It's recognizing that the systems we've built over the past generations have not always treated people of racialized backgrounds of Indigenous backgrounds fairly through the very construction of the systems that exist.  And based on that on June 12th, Brenda Lucky again goes before the media and acknowledges she says that “I didn't say that systemic racism exists in RCMP” and she should have, and she admits that systemic racism is within our RCMP.  The problem is when you start to argue about the definition.  When you get hung up on the definition, this inhibits the really important work that needs to be done to help those suffering at the end of racism.  So Ken, good people participate in systemic racism.  Let's give you a few historical examples.

So, do you think that the ERCP officers who took children away to residential schools saw themselves as good people?  They were protected and what they were doing was under full effect of the law.  Do you think do you think now, hindsight being 50/50 (20/20?), looking in this modern day?  Do you think they were good people?  Do you believe that they saw themselves as such?

In 1928, the Alberta passes the Sexual Sterilization Act, and BC passes a similar act in 1933, where thousands of Indigenous men and women were involuntarily sterilized.  Those acts were specifically in regard to what they refer to as inmates of residential schools, so upon they say so of the principal, they can be involuntarily sterilized.  So with that in mind, do you think that the doctors and nurses who involuntarily sterilized thousands of Indigenous girls and boys were thought of?  Followed by their neighbours? No.  The argument could be made and has been made and put forth, and it certainly meets the declaration on the Rights of Indigenous people and the definition of genocide.  The man in the Canadian Museum of Human Rights is accepting it that this was genocide, however, some people they still get hung up on the term genocide.  Just don't like that term when you're talking about the Canadian Indigenous experience.  So at the very least, if you can, if you subscribe to that, at the very least these are extreme examples of system…So this is my indoctrination into systemic racism and how I perpetuated it myself at great cost due to my own mental health, unfortunately.

When I started in policing, it's you get put paired up with an experience senior officer, and I was paired up with someone definitely from a Eurocentric settler Canadian background.  And we are working the North End, and we're in apartment on a domestic violence call in the North End and the mail the Indigenous husband obviously assaulted his Indigenous wife.  And we separate the two of our policy and it's obvious that he assaulted her, so I begin taking a statement from her.  Ordinarily we wouldn't want to do that with him just over in the next room, but he couldn't really hear me, so I began taking her statement.  Now was trained at the police academy to take her statement, write down what she says as she said, says it exactly as they say it.  The reason why we are trained this way is that for something that's that they can deception through statement analysis by using looking at the words that people use.  And so I was following my training and writing down exactly what she said, how she said.  Now the interesting thing about this is she has an Indigenous worldview.  The way she views the world is very contrary to this linear thinking model, that Eurocentric settler Canadians tend to think.  So when she's talking about the assault she's talking, she immediately talks about a little bit about what happened after the assault, a little bit during the assault, and a little bit before the assault.  She keeps jumping over all over the place on this timeline, but I keep writing down exactly everything that she says as she says it.  This incense is my field training officer who says “are you seriously writing down everything she's saying?”  I said, and so he handcuffs the he was obviously has lost his patience with me.  He's handcuffed the fellow to a register.  He comes over and he snatches my clipboard from my hands, and he says, “you really are writing down what she said.  You can't submit this surgeon reader will bounce this, and we'll be back here in a couple hours taking the statement all over again. Clean it up.” and he throws my clipboard back.  “I don't understand”, I say to him “what do you mean clean it up?”, and he says “all we need to know and you're looking at this linear thinking timeline.  Here is what happened before the assault, which would be intro in the statement, what happened during this assault, which would be the body of this, and what happened at the end of the assault her injury sustained as a result be a conclusion.”  So very linear thinking which is a problem and I relent well, that's not what we're trained.  And of course, he tells me forget all that crap that they teach you at the academy, which was a very common to hear a common thing that young officers here all the time.  The problem was is that the worldview was coming to clash here and here in North American society.

Settler Canadian society, we are very linear thinkers.  Just starts when you're a little kid and you start sharing, hearing Aesop's Fables.  Think about everyone you ever heard every Disney story, once upon a time, there was a beautiful Princess and all these bad things happen at the end they slew the dragon and lived happily ever after.  Think about every book report you ever wrote, intro, body, conclusion.  Think about your science fair experiments, you start with your hypothesis.  You do your experiments and based on those results, this is what you learned your conclusion.  And this is so ingrained in us here in North American society.  It's in the movies that we watch, and I like to use the example of Pretty Woman with Richard Gere and Julia Roberts, 'cause a lot of people have seen that although the older I get it seems it's starting to become a dated reference.  But in that movie, she's a sexually exploited woman, he's the unhappy billionaire.  They meet, they fall in love, and they live happily ever after.  At the end, he picks her up in a limo and happily, ever after.  We're used to like watching movies we like that here in North America, and then Quentin Tarantino comes along.  He makes a movie called Reservoir Dogs, and he tells it in a very different way when you walk into a Quentin Tarantino movie and you sit down with your popcorn.  The first thing they show you is the end of the movie, and then they show you a little bit at the beginning of the movie, and then they show you a little bit of the middle of the movie, and they jump all over the place on this linear timeline.  And Quentin Tarantino was heralded as this revolutionary new story style of storytelling.  But the truth is that Quentin Tarantino used to be a video clerk prior to making movies, and he borrowed that style of storytelling, “Lock, Stock and Barrel” from the Japanese subtitled samurai flicks that he used to watch it.  Bollywood movies and in those movies they do jump around that timeline because they come from a different world.  And so the majority of the world many Indigenous, many Asian, many African, South American, South Pacific and Middle Eastern cultures tend to think more cluster or holistic thinking.  So they tend to jump around more on that timeline and referring things to you.  They get tend to come, they don't go neatly in that linear thinking timeline.  Add to that in the Indigenous worldview, there's not just the physical aspect of things that happen to you, but there's also the mental, the emotional and the spiritual aspect, and that was included in my victim statement.  But my field training officer orders me and reminds me that I “write your evaluation.  You will clean this statement up” and unfortunately I gave in and I did rewrite her statement.  In doing so, and I've lost a lot of sleep over this.  Over the years did I re-victimize my Indigenous victim?  Somebody that I should have been standing up for?  So I myself perpetuate it’s systemic racism in policing in this is just one example, and we could say, well, that was long time ago that was 1992, but I can tell you just before leaving the streets. My last year on the street with the Winnipeg Police Service, so I was a street supervisor in downtown Winnipeg.  I had a shift of 25 plus officers.  They were still coaching each other to clean up the statements in this regard, it was still happening.

OK, let's, I'm not gonna beat up on policing, talk about child welfare and I did a little stint there before I came here.  And right now there's a class action lawsuit that that's in that's made the news about some Indigenous families are suing because of birth alerts.  There's birth alert is a child or apprehension when somebody, when the agency has concerns, they will apprehend the child at the hospital.  Now when I started with them, and I was started asking about the birth alerts is what would make them consider a birth alert.  And they said one of the things that they do is prior to you when they find out when they have concerns about a pregnant woman, they meet with her and they do a home visit and they go through your checklist.  And on this checklist is do you have a crib?  Do you have a stroller?  Do you have a car seat?  Do you have this?...and they would do this a couple months, within a month to two months leading up to the birth.  Now the problem with that is in mainstream North American society and Canadian settler society, it's very common to have a baby shower where all that mom to Be's family and friends will get together as depicted here on the left, and they will throw this nice party and they will get all of these things that mama needs.  That's very, very different from many Indigenous folks who because birth rates are very different and because still births are very high in our communities, we don't do that.  In fact, because we wouldn't want these that mom and that family to have a room full of a reminder of the loss of that child.  And so what happens is no those things aren't purchased in advance, but everybody pulls together to get everything while mom when Mama goes to the hospital.  And they know that everything is fine then the family behind the scenes works to get all over those things, so it was just a very, very different way of looking at things.  But that was one of the things that they would look at and a concern is if they didn't have these things leading up to it.  And at the time that they went in that was this is another current practice and this is not just with the City of Winnipeg.  Although we do have this here, but this is everywhere in north America.

And in the job interview you just have to look at any leadership or management courses that are offered by you.  University of Manitoba. UofW, Red River College, it's all about this idea that conflict is this mountain you have to climb, managing, change, difficult conversations, manning managing different generations in the workplace, that type of thing.  But it's all this idea that conflict is a mountain and you have to climb, claw your way to the top and plant your…Meanwhile, many Indigenous, many Asian, many African, South American, South Pacific, Middle Eastern cultures, they see conflict as bad and so they don't climb the mountain of conflict, but they work around it.  So with that in mind, how do you go into a job interview or a promotion interview and answer the conflicts inevitable?  Tell us about a time that you encounter conflict in the workplace, and the steps you took because of it and how you grew.  How do you true to your values, true to who you are as a to the core of who you are?  How do you answer that question?  There's a lot of other ways that culturally we're set back from the job interview and the promotion / interview situation.  With promotion and the job interview, very you're supposed to sell yourself.  How do you do that as an Anishinaabe man like myself?  How you go into that situation when we have the seven sacred teachings?  Our core values and one of them is humility, the wolf teaching.  How do you sell yourself?  How do you brag about yourself in that situation when your whole life you've taught, been taught to be humble and you don't believe that these are skills and abilities, but these are gifts and responsibilities that you're required to serve your community, your family, and your people.  So very very much at all at odds and this is why we need.  This is why we have a lot of glass ceilings.  I go to the senior management team meeting and through no fault of the folks who sit around that table good for them to get to that level, but I'm the only Indigenous person that is sitting at that table.  And so we need to take a look at that we do.  Why do we have glass ceilings and sticky floors in organizations?  Why have we never had an Indigenous chief of police at the Center City?  We do currently have a serving inspector, but that's three ranks away from….Very proud of that person, so a shout out to Bonnie Emerson over there, I wanna be pretty boy.

Here's another example systemic racism.  In the calendar so every time of year it comes Christmas comes around and everybody we're happy to get the time off.  But that does little for folks who have other belief systems and other cultures and they celebrate different things at different times a year, so everybody gets Christmas off.  And yet I'm penalized for eat, I can take time off for eat but I have to take my own time off.  I'm penalized for Diwali or me personally in the summer solstice we have the Sundance ceremony.  Wet ceremony where we go.  Four days, four nights, no food no water.  It's the highest ceremony in this region and yet I have to take time off for it when I don't want Christmas off.  I don't care about that. I want that time off that's what's important to me, yet I'm penalized for that.  So those are examples, historical and recent, and things that still exist to this day of systemic racism.

So what we what I quite often here is the solution must be that we need to hire more Indigenous, Black and persons of colour.  But how safe is your organization for these folks?  As the mayor indicator, I started with the Winnipeg Police Service in 1992.  This was after the Aboriginal justice inquiry was put forward.  One of the authors being a Senator Murray Sinclair, and in there they recommend that the Winnipeg Police Service needs to hire more Indigenous officers, and be reflective of you know of the labour market, availability of the population of Indigenous people.  And so they set out to do some work on that now is the very first class after that.  And the Winnipeg Police Service was not prepared to have a bunch of Indigenous officers and that the proof of that it wasn't a safe place, and they weren't prepared for that is that before we even hit the street we lost five Indigenous classmates.  And when I retired in April of 2017, all of those Indigenous officers, 'cause 65% of my class was Indigenous, there was only me and two other ones that were still in the organization.  So how safe does that tell you that the organization is that after we're all supposed to make to at least the 25, make it to retirement that many left the organization?  So what happens?  Why do we get to this place?  And when I found this, I've seen this in a lot of presentations and workshops, and a lot of research comes back to this diagram here which speaks to a lot of people.  

If you have the opportunity to talk with folks you'll find that a lot of people experience the same thing.  So we have these great programs, or we want to have a woman of colour, persons of color, Indigenous folks come into the organization and wait leadership it starts out that tokenized higher.  But there's a honeymoon phase and that person of color, you know that woman of colour, Indigenous person with a Black person, they feel welcome, needed and happy.  But then something happens from working there and they're doing their job.  They're repetitive injury and microaggression, something I'll explain more and more.  The reality sets in the one of cult the woman of colour begins to point out the issues within the organization, and she tries to work within the structure of the organization for things to change and push us for accountability.  Now the common reaction is the denial of racism, and so the response that we often see is targeting and attacking.  So the organization denies, ignores them, blames they place the responsibility for fixing the problem on the woman of colour, and then they even pick people of colour against one.  There's retaliation where the organization decides the woman of colour is the problem and they target her.  The organization labels the conflict as a communication issue, or claims that she's not qualified or not a good fit.  And I invariably the woman of colour exits the organization, and this is why we see in many instances brilliant Indigenous, Black and Women of colour going from organization to organization.  And it comes right back to this.  And what I saw within policing is that many Indigenous, Black and police officers of Colour, they would just pull back and do the bare minimum and count the days.

Another thing that happens is there's when you start taking up this mantle and doing Anti-Racism work, and when you're standing knee deep in a system that's harming you and the people around you, and failing that you and the people around you, it starts to take a toll on you and that is best exhibited here. And I'm going to exit and I'm gonna ask my helping folks if they would mind showing the video on my behalf.  So I'll just preface this video they got it set up for me here, so we'll just wait one second there. So this is Romeo Saganash he's talking.  He's a Member of Parliament, pre-lawyer he knows how this system works.  He knows how very experienced about talking in halls of power, but he's got a lot of pressure from his community from northern Quebec decrease.  And the Inuit of northern Quebec are very concerned about the pipeline going through his region, and the fact that there could be oil spills and contaminating.  They're very, very fragile ecosystem that many of his family members are out on the trap line that our commercial fisherman, so he's very, very concerned about.  This is very important to him, so he gives this impassioned plea.  But unfortunately, there's a party in here where a lot of Indigenous, Black and persons of colour can relate to this.  So with that we'll watch the video.  When the Prime Minister insists that this pipeline expansion will be done no matter what, and his minister adds that this Canada will not be able to accommodate all Indigenous concerns.  But that means is that they have decided to willfully violate their constitutional duties and obligations.  Mr. Speaker sounds like a most important relationship, doesn't it?  Why doesn't the Prime Minister just say the truth and tell the Indigenous people?  That he doesn't give a…about their rights.  The honourable Member for a bit to BBJ you is an experienced Member, and knows that is unparliamentary language and I'd ask him to withdraw the word and apologize.  My assistant can stop it there, partner.  So, that is the example of…

The best example, one of the best examples, that I can show you, our racial battle fatigue so this is so important to him.  I want to make sure that you folks can see that.  I'm getting a message that everything is OK.  So this is so important to him, but he becomes so impassioned and he's reacting what you don't see in here is what's happening across the aisle with the folks are saying, and they're egging him on the comments that are being made pretty insensitive, and so he loses his temper and he swears there.  The unfortunate part is that the focus then became on his unparliamentary behaviour and that isn't.  That's really unfortunate because he had a very important message and that got lost in there.

I just seen a green screen, I'm gonna have to exit and start again. I'm sorry folks. No, how is that?  Are we good now?  I think I'm good now, yeah looks like we're good, OK so.

Unfortunately, I've been that indigent that angry Indigenous person and called thereafter talked as the angry Indian.  And I've heard this from Black folks, from a lot of Persons of Colour talk about that.  You know that happens and that becomes the focal point, and where people have said it happen where people have said I feel unsafe to be around that ntability and maybe they the other way.

Another way that systemic racism happens quite commonly, and I see this still at the City of Winnipeg, is through racial microaggressions and these are brief and commonplace daily verbal behavioural indignities.  And doesn't matter whether intentional or not, but they communicate hostile, derogatory or negative racial slights.  So think of them as a paper cut in one paper cut, not so bad, but when think of if you're enduring papercuts consistently and constantly and on a daily basis that over time they get you down, and with time it can amount to death by 1000 cuts.  And so one of the ways that it happens quite frequently is that people invalidate you or they speak over top of you that happens quite frequently.  So here's some examples of, so what is the ascription of intelligence?  And so that's assigning intelligence to a person of colour on the basis of their race.  So this is what it sounds like, social setting or a workplace setting.  “Cecil, your credit tier race and what I feel and the impact it has on me is that people of colour are generally not as intelligent as white folks, you're so articulate” and so what?  The message to me is that you're saying that it's unusual for someone of my race to be intelligent.  This next one here we see quite a bit of colour blindness, and these are statements that indicate that a white person does not want to acknowledge race and so what?  It sounds like “when I look at you, I don't see colour” and the impact of that is that you're denying a person of colour's racial and ethnic experiences.  “There's only one race, and that's the human race”, and in doing so you're denying the individual as a racial, cultural being an Indigenous man.  Being an Anishinaabe man is very, very important to me, so you're saying that you're denying me that myth of meritocracy.  These are statements which assert their race does not play a role in life successes, and it sounds like I believe the most qualified person should get the job.  And so the message that we're told and that we walk away with is people of colour are given extra unfair benefits because of their race.  And then it also sounds like everyone could succeed in this society if they work hard enough, and our take away with that is that you're suggesting you're inferring that people of my race are lazy and we don't.  We need to work harder.

So here's some, these have all experienced in my time at the city.  Don't call it Indigenous male chief who isn't one, even if you thought it was funny, I guarantee he won't.  A chief is something that is earned that why your community...So that's why they wear feather headdresses with the eagle feather on it, because the eagle feather high flies highest and closest to creator.  So we made these sacred head dresses to protect our leaders to look after them and guide them.  So to just call any Indigenous person chief, that's it's very offensive.  If you're in a meeting, you say you're probably wondering why I called this little pow wow.  Just don't do it in determining who gets a task no one wants to do.  Don't assign someone because they're the low man on the totem pole.  Incidentally, if a little bit about Totem pole, the lowest position is actually a position of honour.  When doing a large project and everyone is offering their opinions, please don't say there's too many chiefs and not enough Indians.  Please don't start a conversation with, don't be offended by this, but.  Invariably, it's been my experience that what you're about to say is offensive, and you so maybe you may need to think whether you really need to ask that question.  And please think about this next pointer.

Please don't demand free emotional labour from your dizziness coworkers or clients.  So for instance, when that farmer from Saskatchewan beat the charges for the shooting of Colten Bushie.  This is a common thing that we heard in Indigenous country, and we were hurting.  We were reeling from the failure of the legal system.  Failing us yet again we were hurt.  This could have been any one of our kids.  And our co-workers, so I can't even go down the hallway and grab a glass of water because my coworker says “hey, what do you think about that Saskatchewan farmer beating his charges for shooting that boy?”  You know this idea that I should put aside my personal feelings at my pain that I'm going to collectively that we're going through as Indigenous folks.  The morning that we're going through the calmly explained to you without an emotional response.  You know, some would argue that that's the epitome of privilege and then this paternalism.  I worked the North End 20 years, and I know these people I've worked, there's a new sheriff in town and circle the wagons.  These have all been heard by me in my time here at this.

So you wanna be an ally, accept the shared experience, the impacts of racism at face value.  Recognize the injustice system for what it's racism, especially in the face of a large amount of proof.  Don't double down on the denial, and don't try to minimize it by drawing parallels to your experience.  If you're not Indigenous, Black, or a person of color, don't compare your experience to that of racism because specifically they're talking about racism at that point in time.  Recognize if you were unknowingly benefiting from white privilege, and we're very fortunate to have Doctor Wetter talk to us about exploring whiteness privilege on Thursday.  Challenge others for asserting their privilege and being unfair, and walk beside us indigenous, Black and persons of colour on the path to reconciliation.  Don't try to lead us and you don't have to get behind the scene either.  We're all in this together.  Anti-Racism experts nationally, internationally, will tell you that you are either actively doing Anti-Racism work and calling it out in whatever your spirit influences, or you’re in complicit and possibly benefiting from systemic racism.  So that inspired presentation to the talking portion, I think I find it out.  I went a little bit late, but will open it up for questions now.  I will stop sharing.

Question and Answer Period moderated by Diane Burelle and responded to by Cecil Sveinson

Diane:  Thank you very much, presentation very insightful.  Thank you for sharing your personal experiences with us.  It helps to shed light in understanding what systemic racism is, and how it shows up in different forms.

So the first question that we have for you is, could you please discuss the impacts of intergenerational wealth, or perhaps more important it's denial, in the context of systemic racism?

Cecil:  So if you've ever heard the term “redlining”?  Thank you, can you hear me? Oh, was I muted?  Hello…in August.  OK, all good, you can hear me just fine.  They said all good so OK, thank you Andrea. She said she can hear me. OK, so if you've ever heard of the term “redlining” that was started by financial institutions, and it was to point out that certain areas of let's say a town like the city of Winnipeg, these areas is that's where marginalized our poor people live.  So these people aren't anyone from those addresses wouldn't be desirous of getting, obtaining a loan.  So the intergenerational and because your marginalized poor end to be Indigenous, and you Black and persons of colour, the newcomer community are concentrated in those areas for generation, they wouldn't be able to have access to loans due to get further ahead whereas people who are outside of that area would be able, predominantly white folks, would be able to access and move on.  So your parents being able to get a loan your grandparents being able to get her a loan several.  A few generations ago, they accumulate wealth and they move on from humble beginnings they move on start a business.  Your parents take over that business, your dad expanded that business.  It becomes even larger, and then you're born into that.  No one's default you about this system in which you were circumstances were two or born into, but you can't deny that you had an advantage there.  That intergenerational advantage of wealth that other folks who may have grown up and lived in those redlines and that came from the States, but it's also as practice in Canada.  Haven't had access to that intergenerational here in Canada.  Indigenous people who on reserve they couldn't get loans.  It was illegal for them to get home that wasn't they couldn't you cannot use the land near the home that you own.  To this day on the reserve as collateral to get a loan, so it still continues to this.

Diane:  Thank you for that, Cecil.  Another question is what can we do to start dismantling systemic racism? How to decolonize the systems that are in place that are having a negative impact on the Indigenous peoples, Blacks, people of colour?

Cecil:  Just education is the big thing, and so things like this call it out and doing some really big self-examination, and there's some good resources.  Those resources that are out there that you can look at, so look up micro aggressions, look up Anti-Racism, look up how to be an ally.  You just Google those things and you can get a wealth of information.  Just on YouTube, follow Indigenous, Black, persons of colour if you're on social media all of those content creators, to learn about issues that are important to these folks to help to come to an understanding.  I learned a lot from these folks in a special shout out to some of my nieces and nephews who I talked about earlier.  I learned through ceremony the Kevin Sattis, the Tasha Spillett, sneakily logic Morris that Justin…Thank you so much for planting these different ideas, making me look at things in a different world way so that I can constantly be on guard to learn and better myself, and to be myself.  Even though because I have those other privileges that I can still be a better relative for those folks, so Racism, unfortunately, is like rust that never sleeps.  We always have to be on guard and we have to be working against it.

Closing Remarks by Natalie Durocher

Great, thank you so much Cecil for this very impactful keynote address, and thank you to everyone for attending today's session.  I know we're getting a lot of great feedback through comments of thanks for the presentation in the context, so thank you so much Cecil.

One of the other questions that is being asked is, whether or not this is being recorded?  So yes, this session is being recorded and will be placed on and available for further viewing.  We do have other great speakers lined up this week, so we will be putting that information into the chat.  So for employees interested in furthering their knowledge, if you could please register for the events in PeopleSoft, and the public will be able to click on the links in the session chat.  And I also wanted to take just this opportunity to thank everyone who have made today's speaker event a success.  So thank you so much.

Cecil:  Thank you again and enjoy this beautiful spring day you folks.


  1. Could you please discuss the impacts of intergenerational wealth (or perhaps more important - its denial) in the context of systemic racism?
  2. Thank you so much for your presentation today!
  3. Not a question but I wanted to say thank you for sharing your perspective - this was very enlightening.
  4. Is this recorded?  This was incredibly powerful.  Thank you for your work and effort.
  5. Great point about HR & recruitment and the traditional question about conflict.  Is the City going to be changing this interview question?
  6. What would you say is one way a non-Indigenous person can respond to racism in the workplace without causing more harm to the people affected?
  7. For those doing anti-racism work in child welfare as POC woman can you offer any strategies for working through the " problem woman" experience as this is exactly what is occurring within my agency.  How do we hold systems accountable in a good way that does not trigger white fragility?
  8. What is your opinion on workplaces that ask you to voluntarily identify your ethnic background when you apply for a job - is this a pro/con?
  9. Not a question but I wanted to say thank you for sharing your perspective - this was very enlightening.
  10. Thank you so much Cecil!!
  11. Thank Cecil! Much respect!
  12. Thank you so much.
  13. Thanks so very much.  It was a very powerful presentation.
  14. Many thanks for this very helpful seminar.
  15. Thank you!
  16. Thank you for sharing your experiences Cecil.  As a black female City employee, I've experienced discrimination when it comes to furthering my career.  I appreciate you highlighting this experience.
  17. Thank you Cecil!
  18. Anti-Racism in Action 2022 website: