A Cree elder from northern Manitoba feels sick after he says staff at a Thompson furniture store racially profiled him and called police to accuse him of being intoxicated.
“I was angry and hurt. I don’t know how to really explain it, but I could feel it in my chest,” said Edwin Beardy.
The 70-year-old from Tataskweyak Cree Nation suffers from Kennedy’s Disease, a rare degenerative disorder that causes muscle weakening in his face and legs, resulting in difficulty walking and articulating his speech.
On Feb. 19, Beardy drove from Tataskweyak to Thompson to pick up a bed that he had ordered days earlier, only to be told by the staff that some of the parts hadn’t arrived.
When Beardy explained he had been told to come pick up the bed on that day and it was a nearly two-hour drive, he was told they would give him a refund.
The 70-year-old went to see a different staff member to get the refund and explained his situation, when a different staff member came and suggested he return to the store sober.
“I said, ‘What? I don’t even drink,'” Beardy said.
“I didn’t expect to be treated like that. I went in, I paid for a bed. I expected that bed.”
Beardy left the store and got in his car. While he was sitting there, an RCMP cruiser pulled up behind him with lights flashing.
The officers told Beardy they need to take a breath sample. Beardy said he had to make multiple attempts, as his condition made it difficult to blow into the device, but eventually the result showed zero alcohol content in his blood.
A spokesperson for the RCMP confirmed they made a traffic stop in the area and obtained a breath sample, which came back at zero.
Beardy believes staff at the store made assumptions about him because of his Indigenous identity and his disability.
“I’m handicapped, or maybe, I don’t know, the way I walked … It kind of shocked me, what they were doing. Why, why are they doing this?”
He calls it an incident of “racial profiling.”
“It’s stereotyping Indian people of being drunks, that’s the way I see it … I think that’s discrimination against native people.”
A representative of The Brick told CBC that the store in Thompson is a franchise location not directly owned and operated by the company, but that they had spoken to the owner, as well as Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak, which represents northern First Nations governments.
“The assumption that was made was clearly wrong, and we recognize that. We’ve instructed all staff members that the decision was wrong,” said Greg Nakonechny, vice-president legal at The Brick.
The store would be making a formal apology to both Beardy and Tataskweyak Cree Nation, Nakonechny said.
“We will also undertake to complete sensitivity training for all staff members, so that’s our hope that this never recurs again,” he said.
Until the staff go through that training, however, Beardy says he has no interest in meeting with the people from the store to hear their apology.
“I’m still very angry,” he said.
This isn’t the only incident of Indigenous people being accused of being intoxicated by staff at businesses in Thompson. Beardy says he personally knows of three other similar incidents happening to friends and relatives within the last three years.
MKO Grand Chief Garrison Settee released a statement Monday condemning the incident.
“The Brick needs to respect that they are on First Nation territory, and as such, are required to respect the first citizens of this land,” Settee said in the statement.
“It is also essential businesses are aware of the significant role First Nations have in providing a strong economic base in the City of Thompson.”
Beardy said he plans to meet with representatives from MKO to talk about the issue.
“Thompson is the hub of the north. A lot of communities, schools, band administration and residents of surrounding reserves, they go to Thompson. That’s what keeps Thompson alive … We don’t need this kind of treatment.”