Diane Roussin is currently the Project Director of the Winnipeg Boldness Project, an ambitious social innovation initiative seeking to create large-scale systems change for children and families in the Point Douglas neighbourhood. She has worked tirelessly, primarily in Winnipeg’s inner city, for initiatives that promote Indigenous People’s values and ways of knowing and being. She has led many projects and organizations including as Executive Director of the Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre, as Co-Director of the Community Education Development Association, and as Coordinator of The Centennial Neighbourhood Project.
Andrea Kosovac Sykes is currently the Ontario Hub Coordinator, under the supervision of Manuel Litalien and François Brouard. She has a Bachelor of Commerce from Carleton University, and currently pursuing her Master of Science in Management at Carleton University. As part of her Master’s, her research is looking at the relationship between hospitals and hospital foundation(s) with my supervisor François Brouard.
AKS: Can you tell me about yourself and how you got involved with The Winnipeg Boldness Project.
DR: I’m a first nation’s women and I have been living in Winnipeg since the 90’s, when I came for school. When it came time to do my practicum, I knew I wanted an indigenous public policy placement. This was when I was first introduced to a lot of different indigenous organizations and leaders; the female indigenous leaders had the greatest impact on my life. That was how I first got involved in the inner city and have continued to be involved. It was the vibrant and cutting edge work happening within the urban indigenous community that I decided to stay in the city. I felt embraced by the urban indigenous community and embodied what I stand for. The Winnipeg Boldness Project is now into its seventh year and is a continuous of my previous work. The Boldness Project is a social lab that from the beginning set out by its stakeholders to revolve around questions of early indigenous childhood. As I had been working mainly with indigenous organizations that served indigenous families, I had a specific set of skills and knowledge that the Winnipeg Boldness Project was looking for.
AKS: How did you first get engaged with initiatives promoting indigenous people’s values and ways of being?
DR: As an indigenous person, being in a mainstream schooling system I always knew my life reality was different than what my experience in school was. For instance, school was always mainstream and centered around different values and approaches compared to how I was raised. As a result, I have always known and felt the difference, throughout my years in mainstream education. When I entered the inner city, the way I saw people doing work and the were doing “profession” was when I realized that this aligns more with me and how I was raised. The way I saw indigenous people delivering service and working, demonstrated that those are the people who I wanted to work for and with.
AKS: Any historical lessons from previous virus outbreaks (H1N1 swine flu outbreaks) that were put into effect for the Covid-19?
DR: Previously, viruses have brought to the forefront how they impact indigenous people differently. As a society as a whole it feels we didn’t take those lessons well. With COVID-19, it has hit the globe in a broader way then any other virus. As a result, more people are feeling the impact that previously indigenous people have felt most acutely. More people can relate and understand as now they have had experienced themselves. For example, we see this idea of everyone having to line-up for any services. Those people who have privilege in comparison to those of lesser economic means are not used to having line-up for services such as food. There is also scarcity which people of privilege don’t have to encounter often but if you are living in poverty it is quite normal. To feel like you aren’t able to get want you need leads to the panic buying and lack of generosity. While indigenous have learned a few lessons, in reality we still aren’t resourced to deal with outbreaks like we are dealing currently.
AKS: Is there an indigenous holistic approach to understand and fight the pandemic?
DR: The Winnipeg Boldness Project is a platform where we centre indigenous wisdom. While there is a lot of principles and knowledge frameworks, one core concept is of relationship. It is through relationship where many values and principles aligned such as reciprocity, and interconnectedness. While society want to reach the recovery mode, we are still in the emergency response mode. To be able to respond effectively and in an equitable way all comes down to attaining a good relationship. As it allows you to be able to know the needs of the community, and redirect resources where needed, such as food and hygiene products. Another principle is interconnectedness; looking at the environment prior to COVID-19, it was considered impossible to hit targets such as to reduce GHG emissions. However, here we are forced into a lifestyle and certain things are thriving within the environment. While there have been negative impacts to the economy due to the shut down of it, there have been positive aspects such as hitting those environmental targets. We never thought we could do something to the economy that would then have a good impact on the earth demonstrating the idea of how interconnected we are. As a Skownan, we have medicine wheel teachings; the elders teach us life phases with the circle. The phase of dependence is when we are young, earlier adult is independence and than as you get older the goal is interdependence. Western society, focuses more on independence to not rely on anyone, and I feel our planet has suffered because of it.
AKS: What are ways that you are seeing the organizations and projects you are working with adapt in the midst of the current pandemic?
DR: Our community, specifically talking about the inner city in neighbourhoods that are usually economically challenged, are good at responding to emergency. When there is a suicide, shooting, overdosing, we are able to mobilize well. This makes us know how to deal with trauma making us be strong and have a lot of resilience, that is helping in the face of emergency response. However, emergency response is more short term while I think the difference is the long term nature of COVID-19. The longer duration of COVID-19 is making the ability to get through emergency response effectively more challenging.
AKS: How difficult is it to shift your work on-line, and practise social/physical distancing?
DR: Most of the Winnipeg Boldness Project partners have been working immensely hard. It is seen that their proactive work has shifted towards getting food and emergency supplies into the community. People are having to spend their program budgets and use that money for purchasing of grocery’s and ways to get food to community’s’. Our partners don’t have a lot time for meetings, they will make time if they feel the meeting will help in serving the community. Moving to an online methodology has a whole bunch of challenges because of certain economic circumstances. In the community we see families not having the hardware, access to Wi-Fi, or enough screens per household. People don’t have quiet spaces; during meetings with the parents you have the whole family interacting. People are pretty exhausted because of all the demands. Our community doesn’t have easy access to credit cards, people still have to go outside. There is no social distancing when using buses or taxi’s when having to go to buy their supplies. There is also a lot of families with fixed incomes where people go load up on supplies when they receive their monthly cheque aren’t able to have access to supplies as they will be gone. Parents are showing fear and anxiety about going outside as there isn’t a lot of space to move around in the inner city. Because of the nature of the work a lot of people still have to go to work.
AKS: Do the measures adopted by the government are harder to implement due to cultural differences (community oriented versus a more individual focus measure)?
DR: I’m in Manitoba, and what our provincial government is saying is very different than the federal government. Federally we have a government that is saying “we are here for you” and encouraging Canadians to apply for various emergency programs. While our provincial has taken the austerity approach, and identifying who are the essential and not essential workers. This has created fear about masses of people getting laid off, as university are being asked to cut back by 30% and the public service are seeing a reduced work week of two days. The reasoning being we all need to take a hit in order to redirect resources to the healthcare. The federal programs have been fairly responsive and easy to access. However, our provincial hasn’t announced anything. This has made everyone worried about their regular program being cut. The irony is that people are spending more money, as they are using program budgets for staffing.
AKS: Any measures/capacity building you think the organizations will be adopting as a result of the pandemic?
DR: Outreach has been more of a focus than it has been in the past, we are really exercising our outreach muscles. Most of our places have spent a lot of time creating gathering spaces with all the amenities including telephones, washers and dryer. People are phoning in as a way to engage in social interaction. With the nicer weather, more people are hanging around the centres outside, forcing staff to have to come outside to enforce certain rules. I think mental health is front and centre.
AKS: Any indigenous gender specific approach to health during these challenging times?
DR: While I think there are indigenous approaches I don’t now if they would be gender specific. Western society is set up for resourcing and programming that divides up gender and family. Indigenous approaches are more holistic and family oriented. Indigenous culture is not worried about the titles and more focused on the relationship. This confuses our system when understanding who qualifies for certain resources. We do have a lot of roles for women and roles for men that come through in ceremony. There is a lot of healing that happens in ceremony, that would fall into mental health approaches.
AKS: Have you witnessed new crisis emerged as a result of the self-isolation/quarantine?
DR: While I watch various public officials and Premiers talk, I don’t hear them talking about the things I hear family’s talk about. I’m not talking about all family’s but mostly inner city families with economic challenges. They are talking about the struggles of being at home with the kids all day. This is taking into consideration trying to understand the schooling for their kids and providing food all day that would have been apart of programming. There is also uncertainty when thinking long term, especially as summer is coming there normally is summer camps. It is known that the more isolation there is the worse it gets for families.
AKS: Have you had to lay off staff as a result of the pandemic?
DR: No, at the Winnipeg Boldness Program we haven’t had to lay off any staff as there is only of us. However, I have heard from the community organizations that they have had to lay of some staff due to less budget and having to change in job titles. There is also a lot of fear within the staff of contracting COVID-19 or getting our older population sick, meaning they aren’t wanting to come to work.
AKS: How do you think the announced Emergency Community Support Fund in partnership with Community Foundations of Canada, Red Cross Canada and United-Way Centraide Canada will impact charities and non-profits and what other support would you like to see?
DR: It was great to see the announcement as I personally feel the foundation world and movement has the most ability to be super responsive. As there isn’t the same level of bureaucracy that you see with the government. To be agile and fast the philanthropic world has the ability to really allow resources to flow in a way that the community can be in charge. With the Winnipeg Boldness Project, we get a big portion of our money from the philanthropy, and the way we are set up is emergent and iterative. We were able to go to our community organizations and ask what do you need and how can we help. With sitting on the board of the Winnipeg community foundation I have seen them redirect resources to the community under the COVID-19 response banner and provide money for what is needed. This is different from having a granting program and having to hit certain criteria when applying.
AKS: Do you see any specific impact of COVID-19 on the indigenous community and the province of Manitoba?
DR: I think it just emphasizes the economic inequalities and the limited accessing to supplies, technology, protective equipment. All the social distancing guidelines are difficult to follow as our community isn’t equipped properly in comparison to the mainstream society.
AKS: Any consultation with other partners in different provinces? Internationally?
DR: Due to the Winnipeg Boldness Project and my interest in social innovation world, I have built great connections. I have been able to have access to the top emergency response people in the world. Giving me the privilege to be apart of webinars where I have learned tips and techniques to help with the Winnipeg Boldness Project.
AKS: Did any long-term goals for either the Winnipeg Boldness Project or any other projects changed due to the current situation, with COVID-19?
DR: Not yet, we are a collaborative platform. We are just starting to learn the online tools to be able to collaborate. Much of our work was face to face and interactive, as a result there is a lot of uncertainty if we able to move to an online mode. A lot of our work was cross-sectoral, with the emergency response we haven’t done a lot of cross-sectoral work. There is a lot of sensitivity of the current situation and not getting into business as usual. The Winnipeg Boldness Project is a year to year endeavour, if the pandemic goes on for a year we don’t know if we would be able to progress foreword.
AKS: That was my last question, was there any last thoughts that you would like to add?
DR: No, I think I answered the questions to the best of my abilities
AKS: Thank you for taking the time to do this interview.