'Culture shock when I first came here': Stories of racial discrimination in Saskatchewan

A U.S. transplant from a Saskatchewan First Nation said discrimination is such a common occurrence here, many people don't even notice it.

"It's normal for me to walk around stores here and be followed," said Wanda Rockthunder, a Regina resident from Muskowekwan First Nation.

Rockthunder grew up in Washington state. At 12 years old, in 1981, her family moved back to Saskatchewan.

"It was culture shock when I first came here," she said. "The open discrimination they had here in Saskatchewan ... it's an everyday thing here so, whatever, they don't notice it."

30 years later, issues persist

After living in Regina for more than 30 years, Rockthunder still experiences racial discrimination. It was only a few weeks ago that she encountered a situation that made her feel uncomfortable.

She was shopping at a children's clothing store when "all of a sudden there was this woman looking at me," she said.

"At first, she was standing at a distance [but] the more I looked, the closer she got, and the next thing I know she was standing over me, watching me."

Rockthunder said after 10 minutes of being watched she had to say something and responded with a flurry of questions: "Is there a reason why you're looking at me? Do you work here? Why are you standing there? Did someone tell you to come and stand here?"

Although the employee ended up leaving her alone, the experience of discrimination still sits with Rockthunder.

"Don't be afraid to speak," she offered as advice, "speak out as much as you can against discrimination. Challenge it all the time."

Brad Bellegarde is a reporter at CBC Saskatchewan. This week, CBC Radio's Morning Edition is sharing stories of discrimination from Saskatchewan residents. On Wednesday, we'll hear how an Indigenous leader recalls his first brush with racial discrimination.