WINNIPEG—The chief of the Mathias Colomb First Nation says he is filing a complaint after being accused by a security screener at the Winnipeg airport of having marijuana in a sacred medicine pouch.
Chief Arlen Dumas says he flies a lot and usually doesn’t have any problem, adding he understands how difficult the job can be.
But he says in this recent incident, the screener was aggressive and insulting.
Dumas had been travelling home with his 16-year-old son, who was born with cystic fibrosis and was having a medical check for a recent double-lung transplant.
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 after sacred items in his pipe bundle were unwrapped and handled by screening officers at Ottawa’s Macdonald-Cartier Airport three weeks ago.
Dumas said that when he and his son were both selected for a body scan, the guard who conducted it asked what the pouch around his neck was for.
Dumas told him it was a medicine pouch containing tobacco that is carried for cultural reasons, and explained that the tobacco can be used as an offering with a prayer.
“He started by being very aggressive and he said, ‘It looks like marijuana,’” said Dumas. “He was very disrespectful and rude.”
He said when his companion, indigenous rights activist Pam Palmater, tried to explain the significance of the pouch and that Dumas was a chief, the guard asked: “What’s a chief?”
“I don’t know what this man’s beliefs are but whatever they are, his job is to be professional,” said Dumas. “Security is supposed to be there for our protection, not to insult people.”
Robert Labbe of the security agency said staff receive cultural training to treat indigenous sacred objects seriously and with respect.
“If a passenger believes they have not been treated with respect, we encourage them, strongly, to get in touch with us directly,” Labbe said. “In this specific case, we’ll need to do an investigation, which isn’t ongoing at the moment.”
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