Views / Opinion

Racial profiling follows Indigenous people everywhere: Kabatay

Stores are just one of many places where Indigenous people are unfairly over-policed and profiled.

Last week, Ezekial Bigknife, an Indigenous man, recorded a four-minute video of himself being followed by a Giant Tiger employee in Regina

Screengrab / Facebook

Last week, Ezekial Bigknife, an Indigenous man, recorded a four-minute video of himself being followed by a Giant Tiger employee in Regina

Do you ever get the feeling that someone is watching you?

For Ezekial Bigknife, that feeling turned into a reality — on more than one occasion.

Last week, Bigknife, an Indigenous man, recorded a four-minute video of himself being followed by a Giant Tiger employee in Regina, whom he says has followed him on several other visits while he was shopping.

"Me, I think that's personally racial profiling because I'm brown. There were plenty of other people in that store and he, every day, singles out me, to follow me, and I don't know why," Bigknife said to CBC.

Since the video was published on Facebook, it has been viewed more than 500,000 times. The employee, who worked in loss prevention, is no longer working with the company as of Monday.

The company has also reached out to Bigknife to apologize to him and keep him updated how they are responding to the incident, which he had previously brought up but it hadn’t been dealt with, Bigknife said.

Racial profiling isn’t anything new to Indigenous people. It happens every day, and sometimes people don’t even realize they’re doing it. It’s just programmed in people’s minds that if someone looks a certain way, you expect him or her to act a certain way.

That wasn’t the case here. Throughout the video, the employee hides his face with a newspaper while actively following Bigknife. Even while they’re walking around, Bigknife would tell the man “Come on, we’re going this way,” and he would follow like a loyal loss-prevention puppy.

I’ve been followed while shopping for clothes. I’ve had friends followed while they were shopping. And I doubt it will change anytime soon.

In May, the Ontario Human Rights Commission released a report that found “racial profiling — and the perception of racial profiling — severely diminishes people’s sense of trust in public institutions. This eroded trust undermines the effectiveness and authority of these institutions.”

It can be more harmful and life-changing than being targeted in a store, though admittedly that experience is infuriating and hurtful.

Look at the stories of Indigenous people being mistreated or misdiagnosed by health-care professionals who assumed they were drunk or high. (This happened last year in the Northwest Territories. The man was having a stroke.)  

Read the stories of Indigenous mothers in Canada, who are subject to incredibly high rates of apprehension by child and family services, in many cases because of racist assumptions.  

There are too many stories like this. Way too often we have to fight for our humanity, and remind people that Indigenous people are very much capable of being functioning human beings like everyone else in the world.

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