An Indigenous family says an elder was the victim of a racially charged incident at a Fabricland store in North Battleford, Sask.
Cheyenna Sapp says her 89-year-old grandfather, Simon Sapp, went to the store with his two sons to pick out fabric when the employee began acting rude and disrespectful.
“They went to the cutting tables, and asked for specific amounts of specific colours of broadcloth, a specific type of fabric, and these are for ceremonial purposes,” said Sapp.
Sapp says the employee suggested different fabrics, and her grandfather, who’s first language is Cree, simply said ‘No’ in English.
“After that she began to take a rude and sarcastic tone when she was speaking to him, and each time she would hold up the fabric, and say ‘Seven metres, seven metres,’ like each time before cutting, and each time he would patiently reply ‘Yes’.
Sapp says at this point her grandfather began to get uncomfortable and adjusted the face mask he was wearing.
“She began to tell him that if he was going to remove his mask or if he couldn’t wear his mask then he had to leave the store,” she said. “He tried not to adjust it, but he was continually uncomfortable and continued to adjust it, and she continued to yell and berate him.”
“He’s able to recognize when he’s being discriminated against and not being treated fairly. At this point he told her ‘Don’t talk to us like that’, and then he walked away.”
Sapp says the employee followed and continued to berate him until he left the store.
In a statement to CTV News, Fabricland says the “very sensitive matter is of a private nature” between those who were involved and the store has “been in contact directly with the Sapp family and have given them a sincere letter of apology.”
Sapp believes the incident was racially charged and comes from a place of ignorance towards Indigenous customs and beliefs.
“The fabric that we use is not just for sewing,” she said. “There is a large ceremonial aspect to it, and along with that comes a sacredness.”
“These who are cutting this are already holding — although they don’t understand yet — they are already holding sacred items, and she was cutting them with anger, so that affects the fabrics, that affects the ceremonies.”
Claude Desnomie, who owns Becky’s Arts Crafts & Creations in Fort Qu’apelle, says there’s “not too much awareness” of Indigenous cultures in larger centres in the province.
“They have an idea that First Nations are coming to buy cloth all the time, they don’t know why,” he said.
“It could be our fault by not educating them, but it’s not really our duty to educate them. So they will ask for a cloth and they may not get it because they’re so ignorant of our First Nation culture.”
Sapp says her grandmother is a regular customer at the store, but they are now boycotting it until they receive an apology from the employee, who she says was being culturally insensitive.
“The reason why it’s so important to us as well as because we truly respect our elders in the utmost ways,” she said.
“He’s a knowledge keeper, he’s survived residential schools, he’s a pipe carrier, he’s a very highly respected elder. And for him to be treated like that and belittled and to feel unwelcome in a business, that’s just unacceptable.”