Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO), the advocacy group representing northern First Nations in the province, held a march outside a Walmart in the northern city of Thompson to denounce alleged acts of racial profiling.
Dozens of people joined in on the march.
“Racism is alive and well. It’s just that people have learned how to hide it, but it’s there,” Grand Chief Garrison Settee told APTN News the following day.
“We must confront it because it’s not going to go away by just simply hoping it will go away.”
MKO organized the protest after hearing numerous cases of Indigenous people being mistreated at Walmart by staff and Impact Security Group, a hired security firm.
Thompson is the largest city in the northern part of the province. It is a hub for many of the surrounding First Nations communities with Indigenous people accounting for nearly half of the city’s population.
Settee estimates Indigenous people contribute upwards of $3 billion toward Thompson’s economy.
“It’s with those numbers they deserve respect, and they have been racially profiled,” he said.
Wayne Constant was one of the people who spoke out at the protest about an experience he had while trying to shop at Walmart last month.
“The security guard stopped me in my tracks as I was entering. He said, ‘I can’t let you in. You look like a person who drinks,’” Constant later told APTN.
Constant said he went to the store to pick up some dog food after playing golf. He was dressed in casual clothing including track pants and a jacket.
Constant asked to speak with the manager after the security guard denied him entrance. He admits he began to raise his voice. That’s when a cashier came over and told him to shop while he waits for the manager. He says the manager did not take his concerns seriously so he left.
This is the first time Constant experienced anything like this. The 56-year-old has lived in Thompson most of his life where he has worked for Manitoba Hydro for the past 27 years.
After the incident Constant decided to get in touch with MKO – a move he recommends others in the same situation take.
“I’m just trying to let people know if you encounter racial profiling [you] have to start documenting and taking it to [your] leadership,” said Constant.
“We are hard-working citizens, we pay our taxes, we pay our dues. We should not stand for anything like that. We should be treated fairly and equal not below a human level.”
Constant is in the process of filing a human rights complaint.
Both Settee and Constant believe changes in hiring practices should be made to address some of their concerns.
“The security [firm] that is in place should have Indigenous people working there,” said Settee. “There should be cultural proficiency, there should be cultural sensitivity training in all of these businesses that are established in the north.”
Settee says someone from Walmart said management would be in touch with the organization but he hasn’t heard anything for two weeks.
Neither Walmart nor Impact Security Group responded to APTN’s requests by airtime.