Belonging is an incredibly powerful value.
With a name like Chief, you never forget you are Indigenous. When I was growing up, if someone asked me 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 a sleepless night, and that I lived in a bachelor pad with a single father. Eventually, the embarrassment of being raised in poverty turned into a sense of shame.
But there were also moments when that would go away. When I would put on my 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 Manitobans 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 my Grade Six teacher Mrs. Wilson was patient with me at school and when Leti, the Filipina owner of a corner store, made me part of her family. I saw it when coaches at the University of Winnipeg opened the gym early for me and when so many people mentored me as I started my career. They were willing to see my potential instead of focusing on my hardships. They made me feel like I belonged and changed who I thought I could be.
During the Truth and Reconciliation hearings Honourable Justice Murray Sinclair travelled the country for over six years and heard over 6,000 testimonials. Belonging was one of the most common values he heard from those stories. Building successful relationships by fostering a path of reconciliation will help us restore this sense of belonging.
Our classrooms and workplaces are looking different today as our population in Manitoba continues to grow even more diverse. We have one of the youngest and fastest growing demographics in the country including Indigenous and new Canadians. It’s important for all of our youth to feel a sense of belonging in their community and workplaces so they can be proud of who they are, proud of where they are from, and know they can give back.
Many young people just need the right opportunity to put them on a path to realizing their full potential. They may be the first in their family to graduate high school or attend post-secondary but may not have a network of friends or connections to get that first job and experience. We need to help create paths and build those relationships for them to succeed.
We can’t just tell them it is possible, we have to show them. It is irresponsible of us to ask anyone to overcome hardship and challenge unless we can show them others who have done it.
When I was seven years old my friend Chris Henderson and I were catching a bus on Selkirk Avenue to go swim at the now Sergeant Tommy Prince Place. We got on the bus and went to the back seat to sit down. Chris tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Hey, did you see the bus driver? Go look at the bus driver!” I ran to the front and came back. Chris asked me “Did you see? Can you believe it? The bus driver is Aboriginal – we can be bus drivers!” That was over thirty-five years ago when you just didn’t see any Indigenous bus drivers. Until I saw that bus driver I never would have known we could be bus drivers.
I often think about that bus driver and I wonder if he knows how many people his life touched – how he inspired one boy who went on to become the Southern Grand Chief and another who represented that same neighbourhood in the Manitoba Legislature.
I think about what it took for him to be a bus driver. I wondered about the people around him who supported him and made it possible to get that job – who pushed our systems a little harder and said “why can’t we have an Indigenous person be a bus driver?” I wish I could go back and shake their hands.
I know the hands that I would shake would be both Indigenous and non-Indigenous. Those are the kind of ripple effects you may never see from your work but you should know they happen – how one small act can mean so much. That’s how a bus driver showed us anything was possible.