Protesters gather outside Walmart to demand fair treatment of Indigenous shoppers

Dozens of people, most of them Indigenous, marched along Thompson Drive North to Walmart July 20 to protest unfair treatment by staff and security at the store.

The protest march was organized by Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO), which brought incidents involving Indigenous people being denied entry to the store on suspicion of intoxication to public attention with a press release earlier in July.

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The Thompson Citizen also reported this month on the experience of Celina Dumas, whose sister was incorrectly suspected of stealing and prevented from leaving the store with the items they had purchased.

“As MKO, we are here not to incite racial tension … but we’re here to simply say that we are also citizens of Thompson,” said MKO Grand Chief Garrison Settee at the tail end of the march, when participants gathered in front of Walmart on Mystery Lake Road for drumming and speeches. “Things have to change in Walmart. Our people should not be racially profiled.”

One of the speakers was Wayne Constant of Thompson, who was denied entry to the store by a security guard who told him he looked like someone who drinks, though he hasn’t used alcohol for about 30 years.

“I felt dehumanized, just downright ignorant on his part,” said Constant, who plans to file a human rights complaint against Walmart and Impact Security. “I realize this happens every day and we always shrug it off and walk away, shake our heads and say ‘Oh, that’s it.’ It never goes anywhere, right? But if everybody starts documenting and telling MKO and other political entities, your chief in the community maybe, just start documenting it and bringing it to attention. We’ve got to start somewhere and today is a very good start. It’s time to rise up and bring attention to racial profiling.”

The crowd also heard from Alistair Weenusk Sr. of Oxford House, whose son Alistair Weenusk Jr. was stopped with his wife and made to remove his sunglasses before entering the store so security could check if they’d been drinking.

Keewatin Tribal Council executive director George Neepin spoke about a situation he witnessed in the mall when an Indigenous man was removed from a business after purchasing some food.

“His money is good enough but he’s not good enough to sit in the food court,” said Neepin, who said the owner didn’t respond to his complaints while mall management wouldn’t do anything either. “We all have to contribute to document situations of racial profiling.”

Thompson and Northern Manitoba’s representatives in the provincial legislature and federal Parliament expressed support for the demands that Walmart change its practices.

“It is not OK in 2020, it was not OK before,” said Thompson MlA Danielle Adams. “It has to end. Indigenous people spend how many thousands and thousands of dollars? Where would they be without you?”

Churchill-Keewatinook Aski MP Niki Ashton said that Walmart must apologize in a statement read by Emily Pruder. 

“It’s time for Walmart to be a responsible citizen,” said Pruder.

Settee said the protest wasn’t the end of action but the beginning of a process to ensure fair treatment for Indigenous shoppers in Thompson. 

“This has been a time for us to speak up as Indigenous people of Thompson,” said the grand chief. “Silence is not an option when it comes to racial profiling. This is only the beginning.”

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