‘They were stereotyping’: Thompson store staff calls police on Cree elder with muscular disease

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A Tataskweyak Cree Nation elder says staff at a Thompson furniture store accused him of being drunk and called police to intercept him after a contentious exchange because he’s Indigenous.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 07/03/2022 (338 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

A Tataskweyak Cree Nation elder says staff at a Thompson furniture store accused him of being drunk and called police to intercept him after a contentious exchange because he’s Indigenous.

The Feb. 19 incident left him in shock, Edwin Samuel R. Beardy said Monday. “I don’t know how I felt… mad, angry.”

The 70-year-old suffers from Kennedy’s disease, which causes muscular degeneration in the face and legs. As a result, Beardy uses a cane, and his speech is affected.

Edwin Beardy, who suffers from Kennedy’s disease, was told by a staffer in a Thompson store to ‘come back when you’re sober.’

Beardy said he’d driven to Thompson from Tataskweyak to pick up a bed he’d ordered. When he arrived, staff told him some parts hadn’t yet arrived.

The senior asked if the store could ship him the bed, free of charge, since he was told it would be ready that day and the drive takes nearly two hours one-way.

When staff said no, he asked for a refund, which was eventually processed after some discussion, Beardy said.

It was around this time, Beardy said, a male staff approached him and said: “Come back when you’re sober. You’re drunk.”

Intending to report the man, Beardy said he approached a second male staff member, who refused to give his colleague’s name, before levelling his own accusations.

“He said, ‘You reek of alcohol… come back when you’re sober,’” Beardy said. “I said, ‘I don’t even drink.’”

Staff told him to leave the premises and threatened to call police, Beardy said. Returning to his truck, he called family to get advice on what to do about the incident.

As he sat there, an RCMP cruiser pulled up with its lights flashing.

Police officers then told Beardy to submit to a breathalyzer test. Officers showed him the result on the monitor was zero, the Cree man said.

A RCMP spokesperson confirmed Monday a traffic stop and breath sample in the area resulted in a zero reading.

Beardy said he believes all of this only happened because he’s Indigenous. “I think they were stereotyping,” he said.

On Monday, the owner of the Brick furniture retail store in Thompson, Keith Sanburn, called the situation “unfortunate.”

“It was an error. It never should’ve happened,” he said.

Sanburn said he’s spoken to Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Grand Chief Garrison Settee and has accepted an offer for cultural proficiency training.

“We’re going to make all our staff take that,” he said.

“We’ve definitely discussed the situation, and we also let them know that under no circumstances are the RCMP or law enforcement to be called unless there are circumstance that prove that something was going on.”

He said the store has reached out to MKO to apologize to Beardy, and has written a formal letter of apology.

In a news release Monday, the MKO condemned the actions of the staff as racist, and commended Beardy for speaking out.

Settee said businesses on First Nations territory must respect First Nations citizens and realize the significant economic role such communities play in Thompson.

“We encourage business leaders be conscious of our collective identity as MKO First Nations people and to ensure that serious incidents like this do not occur in the future,” he said.

fpcity@freepress.mb.ca

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