Indigenous issues take centre stage in Winnipeg



Winnipeg is [insert the multiple titles you’ve heard] city of Canada, or North America, or the world.

Depending on your political and social standing, and your connection to the city and ethnicity, you have likely filled in the blank with something different than the person next to you.

I’ve heard many titles because I’ve lived in Winnipeg my whole life: Slurpee capital, Maclean’s most racist city, murder capital, National Geographic’s best place to visit, colder than Mars, and plenty others.

Now our city is about to see another title added to its name—even if it’s one I’ve made up.

We’re seeing indigenous and non-indigenous people take action on the Truth and Reconciliation Act in political forums, activist and journalistic work and by setting up academic courses for all grade levels.

This year Winnipeg’s artistic community has orientated itself on creating conversations and commentary on indigenous stories, issues and perceptions.

Many contemporary works span across different disciplines and are an artist’s response to their environments, society and technology.

The Royal Winnipeg Ballet [RWB] and Theatre Projects Manitoba, among other examples, are artistic works that have started bringing indigenous stories to the stage—stories that are written or directed, and designed or performed by indigenous people.

Reservations by Steven Ratzlaff, directed by Emma Tibaldo and Ian Ross, recently played at Rachel Browne Theatre. The play balanced itself in its perspectives on colonial settlers and indigenous culture while dealing with important issues like Child and Family Services, the right to own land and uprooting.

The RWB is halfway through the showing of Going Home Star – Truth and Reconciliation, which ends April 9.

Actual Gallery’s recent exhibition Conversations with the Land features a photo series that incorporates land art, and performance and installation with overall themes of identity, memory and resilience.

Urban Shaman Contemporary Aboriginal Art Gallery has always been a leader in showcasing indigenous art in a variety of disciplines. Their recent exhibition, The Mapping Identity: A Decolonizing Arts Practices Project, is a project hosted by interdisciplinary artist Praba Pilar, who helps indigenous youth from Ndinawe Youth Resource Centre on Selkirk Avenue explore their identity.

What’s unfortunate about these creative avenues and alternative ways of telling important stories is that most art consumers are left-leaning, open-minded and accepting individuals who are already interested in social transformation and political liberation.

When we pat ourselves on the back for only seeing an art show “dealing with indigenous issues,” we remain oblivious to the actions that need to take place to transform society and find kinship with the real people telling these stories.

There is still a long way to go before we begin to consciously think about indigenous issues aside from when it’s shown through art.

My prediction for Winnipeg’s newest title will be “decolonial art and aesthetics innovators” of Canada, or North America or the world because Winnipeg is becoming the trailblazer for integrating indigenous work into its art scene.


Joy Balmana can be found in her kitchen cooking Filipino or Korean food,

wandering galleries in the exchange,

and experiencing Winnipeg’s newest hot spot to talk about on her blog (

and capture and showcase on her Instagram (@byoj).