Current Problems

Urban Commitments to Reconciliation

My reconciliation journey – one bench at a time

March 6, 2024

NationTalk: Winnipeg Free Press – The Canadian Museum of Human Rights recently hosted a gathering of Winnipeg Indigenous Accord stakeholders, which was excellent groundwork for World Justice Day on Feb. 20.

By definition, an accord is an agreement. Winnipeg’s Indigenous Accord is a living document guiding a shared commitment to the Journey of Reconciliation rooted in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 Calls to Action.

I attended as a co-representative of Little Stars Playhouse, a preschool on Selkirk Avenue. A teacher at Gordon Bell High School says, “healing begins with the children.” That was the lens through which I observed the day. The very first line of Winnipeg’s Indigenous Accord states, “Developed by children gathered in harmony to visualize a future of Winnipeg,” and the very last line says “reconciliation requires sustained public education and dialogue including youth engagement.

National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation
                                Winnipeg’s Indigenous Accord is a living document rooted in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 Calls to Action.
National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation Winnipeg’s Indigenous Accord is a living document rooted in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 Calls to Action.

There are 12,000 children in care in Manitoba and 90 per cent are Indigenous. If accord means agreement, I want to know what these children are agreeing to.

I attempted to channel social justice, accordance, action, and the inter-connected web with what I heard at the Indigenous Accord:

I heard that Manitoba’s first homeless child (an 11-year-old girl) is in a shelter in Brandon. I heard the presenters refer to all us attendees as brothers and sisters. Powerful words.

I heard Johnny Thunder, a motivational speaker from Alberta, say “The personal is political.” Whenever I hear a man quote Gloria Steinem, I pay attention. Essentially, he was saying make the accord personal.

The event reminded me of the theme of my favourite radio show, Dead Dog Café: “Stay calm. Be brave. Watch for the signs.”

For me, that sign came in the form of a bench. And on that bench often sits a young Indigenous man. He always smiles and waves. I decided to sit beside him, say hello and ask, “is this seat taken?” He’s brilliant and he’s homeless. He has a friend who lets him couch surf when very cold, otherwise he’s out there. We’ve had long conversations on that bench. It’s a gift of friendship that I wouldn’t have imagined without the Indigenous Accord. He’s a mess, albeit a brilliant mess and someone I’ve driven past many times. Looking at him looking at the Winnipeg Art Gallery directly across from his spot on the bench, I asked if he’d like to go in with me. He laughed as he said, “but I have nothing to wear.” Even on free admission days, he doesn’t think they’d let him in because of his street clothes.

We’re on a first nickname basis. I call him Benchmark and he calls me Sweetstory. He ran away at 14 from an adoption gone terribly wrong and never looked back. Many therapists say, “it’s never late to have a happy childhood,” but he’s not buying it.

I’ve been taking copious notes on what he shares as its clear to me he needs a good listening-to. He won’t enter the Millennium Library, not out of fear, but because of how police drop off people in addiction distress when they are discharged from hospital and how they are spoken to. Instead, he reads newspapers scrounged from recycling bins. He then uses the papers to line his tattered runners to keep his feet dry, as his socks get soaked from walking in snow and slush all day. As homeless advocate Al Wiebe said, “being homeless is a fulltime job.” So is keeping warm and dry.

If healing begins with the children, it also begins with us. For many, involvement in social justice is a spiritual practice. I have faith and hope that Winnipeg will grow its community outreach and commitment to social justice in redemption and in relationship. Make it personal. One bench at a time.

Heather Emberley

Heather Emberley
Crescentwood community correspondent 

Heather Emberley is a community correspondent for Crescentwood. Email her at if you have a story suggestion.