The Rainbow Resource Centre

One of the interesting questions floating around right now is about the role of place in incorporation, and within that the role of local bureaucracies and non-profit organizations in shaping places of incorporation. Because while people immigrate to new countries they settle in particular cities and neighbourhoods, and so the resources in those places play an important role in representing the places where people settle, and their potential roles in those places.

The Rainbow Resource Centre based in Winnipeg is getting actively involved in questions of immigration, settlement and incorporation, working on several different fronts to make and represent Winnipeg and Manitoba as a safe, welcoming, inclusive places for LGBTT* (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Two-Spirit, Intersex, Queer, Questioning and Ally) and immigrant people and communities.

Manitoba in general, and Winnipeg in particular, are places where the question of immigration has become more important, and literally more visible, in the past ten years. The rates of immigration are rising in the city and province, and people are increasingly coming from countries in Asian, Latin America and Africa as opposed to the more historic waves of European immigration.

RRC’s work around immigration evolved in the same way that all of their work evolves, out of consultation and conversation with the community. First community members noted in the last Community Needs Assessment that RCC didn’t seem to be seeing or connecting with LGBTT* members of the growing immigrant communities, but people figured they must be out there! At the same David Pepper was making his way across the country speaking to promote the North Star Triangle Project educating and advocating for GLBT/Queer refugees, and making a stop in Winnipeg hosted by RRC. And at the same time a group of community members approached RCC to support their work in bringing an individual to Winnipeg as a privately-sponsored refugee.

RCC is approaching the question of immigration and the LGBTT* community from multiple perspectives working to reach out to and support individuals who are have immigrated and are LGBTT* and connecting them to health, mental health and settlement support.

RCC is also reaching out to mainstream settlement and immigration service organizations trying to engage, and educate them around LGBTT* issues and how they might better support their clients. For example, a recurring theme in RCC’s research was the idea of people constantly having to decide what, and to whom,they should reveal about themselves, based on how open or not they perceive the organization or individual staff member?

Finally, RCC is making it a priority to address questions of racism within the LGBTT* community, educating around immigration issues, and encouraging community members to get involved in actively advocating around immigration and refugee issues.

So back to where I began with the question of place and the role of non-profit organizations in shaping the context for incorporation. RCC’s work is particularly interesting because of the ways that they are dealing nimbly with questions of intersectionality — the ways in which various aspects of our identity overlap and interact. Their work is articulating a clear representation of the kind of places they would like Winnipeg and Manitoba to be, and the kind of places into which they hope immigrant residents can arrive and make their way. These are simultaneously LGBTT* places that are anti-racist, and Canadian places that are anti-homophobic.

And on top of all that they’ve started by talking to the people that have most at stake in all of this, people who are both migrant residents and LGBTT*, and making the effort to get a better sense of what an anti-racist/anti-homophobic place might look like from their perspective.

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Since I don’t have a whole lot of good visuals from RRC I’ll also toss in this episode of Queer Conversations featuring Julio Salgado a great artist and UndocuQueer activist living and working in California. Enjoy!

The Rainbow Resource Centre

Woonasquatucket River Watershed Council

Environmental justice started very much as a protest movement with towns and neighbourhoods organizing against the health and environmental inequalities to which they were being subjected.

Documents such as the United Church of Christ Commission for Racial Justice’s 1987 report Toxic Wastes and Race in the United States were important in informing communities that toxic sites were being disproportionately placed in areas with high levels of residents of colour. Additionally, others worked to highlight the environmental racism and injustice that existed at other scales. For example the high levels of led-based paints in low-income neighbourhoods, or in the impacts of water supplies in the Global South as globalized industry avoids environmental protection legislation in the North. As the environmental justice movement grew it became a focal point tying together concerns and actions of urban people of colour in the US, with rural communities, Indigenous and First Nations Communities, and social movements in the Global South.

At the same time as communities continue to organize against environmental injustices a new type of positive environmental justice organizing has also developed. Here the focus is on bringing health and environmental amenities to neighbourhoods that have suffered from underinvestment, rather than just fighting against the negative.

The Woonasquatucket River Watershed Council (WRWC) is one example of a positive environmental justice organization advocating for ecological, health and economic justice in Rhode Island, and especially in the Olneyville neighbourhood of Providence.

Aside from a really fun word to say, the Woonasquatucket is a major watershed in the state of Rhode Island covering 50 sq miles and five municipalities. It also plays a prominent role in the history of industry and economic growth in Rhode Island.

The waters of the Woonasquatucket were the perfect site for early manufacturing, and today mill buildings are still scattered throughout the Olneyville neighbourhood at the water’s edge. Unfortunately in return for powering the industrial revolution the watershed was used as a dumping ground for almost a century’s worth of production. Similarly the Olneyville neighbourhood, home to working class and immigrant residents for over a century, has been neglected by many of the same institutions as the watershed, and this is particularly true with the large scale loss of manufacturing jobs in the past decades.

WRWC, in partnership with other neighbourhood organizations and businesses, is working to address both the natural and social environmental justice issues in the neighbourhood. WRWC does a little bit of everything, from coordinating large scale clean up days, to attracting investments to some of the city’s most neglected parks, and coordinating with the neighbourhood CDC to produce a major park and greenway project along the river.

   

Now they are working to invite people and wildlife back to the river. WCRC hosts dance classes in the park, walking days and bike rides along the greenway, and river paddles in the summer and fall. Their River Ranger program is an opportunity for youth to gain work experience and act as stewards of the river, and their work building fish passages along the river is helping make fish a more common sight.

Staff see successes in their work through the increased use of the parks. They hear from residents who now have a safe option for healthy outdoor activities in their own backyard, and they see wildlife coming back to the greenways, parks and rivers. While there is still more they hope to accomplish, WCRC has started the important work of highlighting the ways in which environmental amenities are not luxury items, but fundamental in terms of urban heath, well-being, and justice.

Woonasquatucket River Watershed Council

too much of a good thing

Having worked on this project for a couple of years now I’ve been able to meet with almost fifty organizations and agencies working in around housing and/or immigration in Winnipeg, Providence and Copenhagen. These have ranged from quite local resident organizations, to large national coalitions and everything in between.

As I get deeper and deeper into writing up I’m being reminded of all the interesting work people are doing, often on shoestring budgets, sometimes in hostile climates, and mostly with an enormous amount of creativity and dedication. But I’m also having to come to terms with the fact that I’m just not going to be able to spend all that much time on individual organizations in the dissertation.

So instead I’m going to use this space to present some short profiles of projects and organizations that I found especially interesting, important or just generally rad.

too much of a good thing