WINNIPEG – Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Derek Nepinak today filed a complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC) against the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA). The complaints follow an incident which took place on February 8th, 2016 at Ottawa’s International Airport where Grand Chief Nepinak’s personal pipe bundle was desecrated against his will. Formal complaints have now been lodged with both CATSA and the CHRC.
“I have carried my pipe bundle with me around the world to bring ceremony and hope to Indigenous communities in other continents. The pipe is used in ceremonies that have been practiced by our people for countless generations. I have never been treated as disrespectfully as I was treated in Ottawa on February 8th. Even though I was very clear in informing security staff that I was travelling with my sacred pipe bundle and describing the contents, which they could clearly see it as it passed through their x-ray machines, they insisted on unpacking my bundle without regard to the spiritual protocols of our people and without my consent. This was a desecration of my person which cannot go unchecked” stated Grand Chief Nepinak.
Security protocols across the country and at international border crossings have demonstrated a considerable degree of variance when dealing with Indigenous peoples and ceremonial items. Several instances of disrespectful and discriminatory treatment against Indigenous peoples carrying sacred items have surfaced in the past few weeks prompting a more focused approach on addressing issues of disrespectful treatment in security zones.
“No one is going to question the need for strong security systems for air travel in Canada. However, when ceremonial or spiritual items are carried by Indigenous persons entrusted with the tools of our culture they should be treated with dignity and respect and by those who have an understanding of their meaning and intent of purpose” concluded Grand Chief Nepinak.
Police and security agencies other than the RCMP have not implemented policies on the respectful handling of Indigenous People’s sacred items. This is an area where work appears needed on a national scale.