Saskatoon arrest video brings back troubling memories for Saskatchewan First Nations chief

·3 min read
A man who identified himself as a security guard sits on top of an Indigenous woman as he tries to force handcuffs on her in the parking lot of a grocery store in Saskatoon on Wednesday. (Jade Acikahte/Facebook - image credit)
A man who identified himself as a security guard sits on top of an Indigenous woman as he tries to force handcuffs on her in the parking lot of a grocery store in Saskatoon on Wednesday. (Jade Acikahte/Facebook - image credit)

A video of an Indigenous woman being arrested at a Saskatoon grocery store brought back painful memories for a Saskatchewan First Nations chief.

"It really bothered me," Melissa Tavita, chief of the Muscowpetung First Nation northeast of Regina, told The Morning Edition's Stefani Langenegger.

The incident happened last Wednesday at a Freshco grocery store in Saskatoon.

The nine-minute video, recorded by a witness, shows a man who identifies himself as the grocery store security guard trying to force handcuffs on the woman. The guard can be heard accusing the woman of stealing. Bystanders plead with him to let her go and let police handle it.

The altercation escalates and the woman punches him. He continues to try to detain her and throws himself on top of her and says he is the one who is hurt as she climbs into the driver's seat of her parked van. Witnesses can be heard saying they can see both individuals are bleeding.

"When I was watching the video, it angered me. It made me think we need to start doing better," Tavita said.

Tavita said the video brought back memories of when she was a teen and was accused of shoplifting along with her sister at a Regina mall.

"The security guards came up to us and they're asking us what's your guy's name? Where's your ID?" Tavita recalled.

They were able to find their parents to tell them what was happening and were later given an apology, she said.

"Fast forward to 20 years later ... and this is still happening."

Tavita said experiences like this are all too common among her colleagues and friends.

"I was sitting with some of my coworkers and the stories started pouring out about how they get followed in stores and how it annoys them as well," she said. "Because we're not there to shoplift. We're there to shop. But because of the colour of our skin, because of who we are as First Nation people, they automatically put us into that box as if we're going to be the ones that are going to be stealing."

Tavita said security companies need to do a better job of training their staff.

"They need to be doing some kind of cultural sensitive sensitivity training, and they need to maybe work with more First Nations people, because we're not all shoplifters, we're not all drug addicts, we're not all alcoholics. We actually are good people. And we can actually get along with other people."

About a year ago the Muscowpetung First Nation formed its own security team.

The service employs 16 people, all members of Muscowpetung.

Tavita said it's important to have Indigenous staff because they understand Indigenous culture.

"I think it brings a sense of pride to our community that we have actual trained security guards on site," she said, adding they want to find off-reserve opportunities as well.

"I think that it'll bring kind of a bridge between First Nations people and non-First Nations people."

The video has spurred calls for the security guard to be fired and has already resulted in the termination of the contract between the FreshCo store and the security firm that employs him.

The woman in the video, a 30-year-old, has been charged with theft under $5,000 and assault as a result of the incident.

The Saskatoon Police Service has confirmed it is investigating the incident.