Pubdate: Tue, 01 Mar 2016
Source: Winnipeg Free Press (CN MB)
Copyright: 2016 Winnipeg Free Press
Author: Alexandra Paul
Page: A5


Plans to file complaint regarding incident at Winnipeg airport

A NORTHERN Manitoba chief says he was accused of carrying marijuana
Saturday at the Richardson International Airport when a security guard
aggressively confronted him about a sacred medicine pouch he wears
around his neck.

In a peculiar twist to the incident, the guard walked off in an
apparent huff when two other security guards tried to intervene and
calm the situation down, leaving Pukatawagan's Mathias Colomb Chief
Arlen Dumas and his companions speechless at the security screening
area where passengers must pass through metal detectors or scanners
and have their belongings X-rayed for safety before boarding a flight.

"I was caught by surprise. I do a lot of flying, and usually I don't
have an issue. Usually the people I see are courteous," Dumas said
Monday in a phone interview. "I try to be accommodating; I can
appreciate how difficult these jobs are."

Dumas and his partner, Pam Palmater, a national indigenous rights
advocate, were lined up with other passengers Saturday morning before
entering the departure area for a flight to The Pas. Also with them
was Dumas's son, Achahk Dumas, 16.

Dumas said he's filing a complaint over the incident. The Canadian Air
Transport Security Authority is already investigating a similar
complaint involving another Manitoba indigenous leader.

Manitoba Grand Chief Derek Nepinak filed a complaint with the agency
that provides security at airports in Canada after sacred items in his
pipe bundle were unwrapped and handled by screening officers at
Ottawa's Macdonald-Cartier Airport three weeks ago.

At the time, the security agency said its staff receive cultural
training to treat indigenous sacred objects seriously and with
respect, advising passengers to speak directly with supervisors if
they have concerns at screening areas. Monday, agency spokesman Robert
Labbe upped the urgency of that earlier advice.

"If a passenger believes they have not been treated with respect, we
encourage them, strongly, to get in touch with us directly, through
our website or our 1-800 number. We thoroughly review and investigate
all complaints, and we try to resolve it in a satisfactory manner, and
when an issue is substantiated, we take measures to address the
manner," Labbe said. "In this specific case, we'll need to do an
investigation, which isn't ongoing at the moment."

Dumas said he and his son were both selected for a body scan, and the
guard who conducted it asked what the pouch - a ceremonial item made
out of tanned moose hide and with beaded embroidery - was for.

Dumas told him it was a medicine pouch.

Such pouches are a common indigenous item, often worn around the neck,
much like a man in a business suit wears a tie. Tobacco mixtures are
typically carried for cultural reasons; in a pinch, the tobacco can be
used as an offering with a prayer.

"It's one of those tiny ones. You've probably seen them," Dumas said.
But the guard appeared unfamiliar with the practice and was suspicious
about the pouch, Dumas said.

Dozens of indigenous people fly in and out of the Winnipeg airport,
filing through security without being questioned over everyday
ceremonial objects. The objects, called bundles, usually go through
X-ray and aren't tampered with.

As with Nepinak's pipe, such objects are considered sacred and are
usually only handled by their custodian. Most often, such indigenous
symbols also indicate abstinence from alcohol and drugs, which made
the accusation about marijuana sound disrespectful and insulting to
Dumas, his son and Palmater.

Nepinak called for basic indigenous culture training for airport
security guards, a call echoed by Palmater and Dumas Monday.

"He was very disrespectful and rude," said Dumas. "And when Pam tried
to tell him the cultural significance of the medicine pouch and that I
was a chief, the guard said 'What's achief?'"

In the end, Dumas unpacked the pouch and the guard took the broadcloth
wrapping from inside the pouch and ripped it open to show the tobacco

"He then accused the chief of possessing marijuana, and we both
vocally protested at his racism," Palmater said. "He continued to take
apart the medicine, which was clearly cedar tobacco and sage and
smelled as such, and he kept saying 'This is obviously marijuana and
smells like it, too,'" she added.

"He started by being very aggressive and he said 'It looks like
marijuana,'" Dumas said. "I don't know what this man's beliefs are but
whatever they are, his job is to be professional. Security is supposed
to be there for our protection, not to insult people," Dumas said.

Adding to it all was the purpose of the trip, Palmater said. It was a
medical trip for Dumas's son. Born with cystic fibrosis, he recently
underwent a double lung transplant and he's still being closely monitored.
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