Treatment stores

Saskatchewan. First Nations elder asks for apology and shares circle after treatment at Regina Walmart

An elder from Muscowpetung First Nation, about 50 kilometers northeast of Regina, is asking for more to be done after an experience she had at a Walmart last fall.

Joyce Keepness says she went to the Prince of Wales Drive location in eastern Regina on October 21, 2021 to purchase 10 gift cards of $100 each, ahead of a gathering of grandmothers that her community welcomed.

However, the 69-year-old Saulteaux woman says when she went to buy them she was confronted by a salesman who accused her of buying them for fraudulent purposes.

“I couldn’t even respond because I was in shock,” Keepness said during a rally outside the store on Friday.

Keepness said she left without buying the gift cards, but Emmalyn Olsen – a visibly white colleague who works with her at the Muscowpetung Health Center – returned later that day to buy them on behalf of Keepness. .

“They didn’t ask me what my intentions were with them, they just gave it to me right away,” Olsen said.

Olsen and Keepness both say that when the couple raised their concerns with customer service immediately afterwards, they were denied a conversation with the manager.

Emmalyn Olsen said she bought the same number of gift cards at Walmart as Joyce Keepness attempted on October 21, 2021, but had no problems. She thinks the difference in treatment came down to the color of their skin. (Cory Herperger/Radio Canada)

After considering the situation for a few days, Keepness decided to contact the Saskatchewan Coalition Against Racism to help report the incident.

“It’s not the first time I’ve experienced this horrible racism – I’ve lived with it all my life. But it’s time to stand up for myself,” she recalls thinking.

Keepness said the coalition followed the local store manager, who forwarded the request to Walmart at the corporate level.

“Unfounded” discrimination: Walmart

After written statements from Keepness and Olsen and an internal Walmart Canada investigation, an employee of the company’s human resources department reached out months later in an emailed letter.

He said that, based on “carefully reviewed” evidence, Keepness’ allegations were “unsubstantiated” and that the employees involved had done nothing against Walmart’s harassment and discrimination policy.

“This gift card value [at or over $1,000] may raise concerns that the shopper may be the victim of fraud,” Janet Warner-Duncan, Walmart Canada’s customer experience case manager, wrote in the March 16 letter.

“In such circumstances, the Associate may contact a manager to take appropriate action to help protect the Customer. was about the process for third-party gift card transactions in particular.”

Warner-Duncan wrote that management has since told employees to report “any concerns that a customer may be the victim of fraud” to a manager and that “there will be no further action related to this concern.”

In a statement to CBC News on Friday, Walmart Canada said it takes “concerns of this nature seriously and is investigating[s] thoroughly.”

A spokesperson called the incident a “misunderstanding” about the company’s processes for ordering large amounts of gift cards.

Calls for education, understanding

Keepness said Walmart’s response left her frustrated, noting she would have preferred to see an apology and an invitation to meet the workers involved to have a sharing circle.

“Some of our First Nations elders can come and work with their employees and educate them about our treaties – educate them about what our people go through on a day-to-day basis,” she offered. “We are not all thieves. We work and our people have money to spend.”

Muscowpetung chief Melissa Tavita says she hopes the Joyce Keepness story inspires more retail stores to undergo cultural sensitivity training with their staff. (Cory Herperger/Radio Canada)

Muscowpetung Chief Melissa Tavita said she was supportive of the elder, noting she hoped Keepness’ story would educate other retail workers to be considerate of their treatment of Indigenous customers.

“If more people were talking about this type of action and treatment, I think people would be more aware,” Tavita said. “It saddens me that not only my children, but also the children of our community – all First Nations children – will have to grow up in this way of life, if we don’t change it today.”