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The group that represents northern First Nations is sounding the alarm after two alleged incidents of racial discrimination by security at the Thompson Walmart in less than a week.
Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Grand Chief Garrison Settee said his group received several complaints from Indigenous people who said they had been racially profiled while trying to enter the store or while shopping at it.
"It’s appalling that we still have to deal with this, especially in our north… we contribute to the economy, we contribute to the overall expansion of Thompson," he said. "For our people to be subject to this kind of racial profiling is unacceptable."
MKO wants a meeting with Walmart Canada to discuss the incidents.
Alister Weenusk Jr., an Indigenous man, went to the Walmart with his wife on Thursday to pick up water and supplies. Weenusk said they both wore sunglasses, and despite many other people entering at the same time wearing sunglasses, they were approached by a security guard and told to remove their sunglasses so the guard could check to see if they had been drinking.
"I refused and told him you’re profiling us. He denied it and threatened to call the cops," Weenusk said.
He felt "embarrassed and humiliated." He complained to a manager, but he said he has yet to hear back.
He said he will attend a peaceful protest against racial profiling that was scheduled for Friday evening outside Walmart.
Weenusk and his wife live in Oxford House and pay $1,000 to fly to Thompson and stock up on necessities.
Weenusk said he felt unsafe when he returned to shop on Friday.
"I was scared of being attacked again. I didn’t want to be embarrassed again," he said.
A spokesperson for Walmart Canada said the chain had been made aware of the incident and the company "is committed to providing a safe and inclusive environment for our associates and our customers."
Earlier in the week, Wayne Constant, also an Indigenous man, said a security guard prevented him from entering the store because, according to Constant, the security guard said he looked like "one of the drunks."
"He labeled me as a drunk on the street, not a human being… it makes you feel pretty down, when somebody stigmatizes you with that label," he said.
Constant, who has lived in Thompson for 35 years, said it was not the first time someone in his family had been profiled at the Walmart store. On one occasion, his wife was questioned when she bought mouthwash.
"It hurts a lot when a person says, ‘You’re nothing but a drunk, you don’t belong in this society.’ It took me back to residential schools," he said.
He said he will file a human rights complaint against Walmart and will seek guidance from MKO and an expert in racial discrimination.
Constant echoed Weenusk’s concerns about returning to the Walmart. Despite his mistreatment, he said it would be impractical to boycott the chain.
"We only have one Walmart in Thompson, and we have limited supplies in Thompson," he said. "As much as I’d like to boycott it, I have no choice but to shop there."
Malak Abas is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.
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