An Indigenous woman whose sister was prevented from leaving the Thompson Walmart with their purchases after being wrongly suspected of theft says store employees need better training to prevent similar incidents from happening to others.
Celina Dumas, who lived in Thompson for 12 years before moving to South Indian Lake last year, was in the store July 7 with her 18-year-old sister, who bought herself a small TV for her room.
“We had to pay for the TV in the electronics department,” said Dumas. “If we didn’t pay for it they would not have taken the security tag off.”
They remained in the store for about 20 minutes after that, stocking up on other items, but when they paid for their purchases and tried to head outside, her sister was prevented from leaving with their shopping cart by customer service representatives who alleged that she had not paid for some or all of the items.
“She came out crying, storming without our cart full of stuff,” said Dumas, who had gone out first to talk to a friend she saw outside the doors. “I said, ‘What’s going on and where’s our stuff?’ and then she said, “‘Well they took it,’ and she was pretty upset. ‘I stole it, they said,' so she didn’t want to deal with any of it so I went back. I showed them all the receipts … and I said, ‘You know, this treatment is terrible, you need to show respect for your shoppers.’ I raised my voice and told them how disgusted I was with the way they were treating us and that it wasn’t fair what they were doing.”
Later, Dumas called the store to speak to the manager, who apologized for what happened and said he would look into the incident.
“I said you’re not the one that’s supposed to be sorry, I think it should be your staff members and that’s when I said if you guys are not labelling us Indigenous people as drunks, we’re thieves,” said Dumas. “That was in a fit of anger but I stand by my words now after thinking about it and processing everything.”
Security at the Thompson Walmart was accused last week of trying to stop Indigenous peopel from going into the store because they looked like people who drank or were wearing sunglesses, prompting Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO) to issue a press release decrying discriminatory treatment.
“It is disappointing to hear there are more reports coming from First Nations citizens who are experiencing disrespectful treatment when they shop at the Thompson Walmart,” MKO Grand Chief told the Thompson Citizen. “We are becoming increasingly aware that these are not isolated incidents. I urge the leadership at Walmart to take time to meet with Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak to address the ongoing discrimination against Indigenous peoples at their Thompson location. We did send a letter to Walmart last week but we have not received any response. We hope management is aware that First Nations people spend a great deal of their income at their store; it is imperative for Walmart to address this immediately.”
Walmart Canada has not yet responded to inquiries from the Citizen about the incident and whether it is company or store policy to prevent customers from leaving with their purchases if they are suspected of not paying for something or their receipt needs to be checked again.