Racism when using First Nations status cards a ‘near-universal experience’: UBCIC study

A first-of-its-kind report confirms that First Nations are used to being treated differently or turned away when trying to use their ID cards in BC.

Commissioned by the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs after Heiltsuk man Maxwell Johnson and his granddaughter were racially profiled and wrongly arrested, the 84-page report finds racism and discrimination are a major cause of BC ID card holders’ Nearly universal experience”

In 2019, Johnson and his then 12-year-old granddaughter Tori-Anne Tweedie were trying to open an account for her at a BMO branch in Vancouver when employees mistakenly believed their ID cards were fake and called the police. Their experience, while more upgraded than most, is one that most ID card holders in British Columbia can relate to.

More than 99% of respondents reported discrimination

Published Tuesday (November 15), They Sigh or Show You: Discrimination and the Use of Status Cards Relevant conclusions are drawn using online surveys, face-to-face experiments, literature reviews and media analysis.

As of the most recent census in 2016, there were approximately 125,635 Aboriginal people living in BC. Status cards have existed in Canada since 1956 and are issued to people registered under the Indian Act, a program with a long history of racism and assimilation. Legislation. Many Aboriginal people do not have an ID card (in British Columbia, more than half as of 2016), but for those who do have an ID card, they can use it as official identification and receive certain tax exemptions.

In Tuesday’s report, 1,026 such BC ID card holders were surveyed. All but four said they were discriminated against when using their ID cards, ranging in frequency from “rarely” to “always.”

The most common instances of discrimination included respondents being told they did not look Aboriginal, shop staff asking for unnecessary personal information, shop staff suggesting that ID cards provided an unfair advantage, and shop staff refusing to grant respondents tax exemptions. Staff also treated respondents more rudely than non-Aboriginal customers, and acted as if handling ID cards was cumbersome or unacceptable, according to the findings.

This is reported to be most common in government or public offices such as police stations and border crossings, as well as in healthcare settings.

Discrimination doesn’t just come from employees, either, according to one interviewee.

“More often than not, I’m not only put down by the staff, but other shoppers behind me are also panting as I fill out the paperwork.”

A report commissioned by the B.C. Federation of Indian Chiefs found that the vast majority of First Nations in B.C. experience discrimination when using ID cards. (Screenshot/They Sigh or Show You: Discrimination and ID Card Use Report)

“They think you’re trying to exploit the system.”

These experiences are also reflected in the field research conducted by the authors of the report. Over a five-and-a-half-week period, the assessors reported that of the 103 transactions they worked on, 17 percent were discriminatory and another 21 percent were likely to be discriminatory.

Assessors report that the store’s return policy will be lowered for ID card holders, if they use the ID card they will not be able to collect store points, they will have to go to a separate customer service line to use it, and lamination cannot be accepted Card.

The report identified the roots of the discrimination as multiple, but exacerbated by past and current media coverage that perpetuates stereotypes and government inaction in educating the public and businesses about ID cards.

“A lot of the challenges I face are small businesses don’t understand the exemption rules and don’t enforce them properly, which creates another kind of misunderstanding and conflict because they think you’re trying to take advantage of the system,” said one survey respondent.

Experience “enhancing future interactions” and “echoing damage”.

The resulting impact on the status of Aboriginal people has been enormous.

“It takes only one experience to create lifelong memories that influence future interactions and cause harm to future as well as to family, community, friends, and colleagues when these experiences are discussed and shared,” the report reads.

Respondents to the survey said they often felt anxious before using status cards, sometimes avoiding them entirely to prevent potential negative interactions. Other times, respondents said they would bring others with them for support or found themselves being especially courteous to employees.

Assessors who experienced discrimination during fieldwork reported that they left feeling uncomfortable, stressed, and angry.

Assessors who experience discrimination during field trips leave feeling a range of emotions, from anger to despair.  (Screenshot/They Sigh or Show You: Discrimination and ID Card Use Report)

Assessors who experience discrimination during field trips leave feeling a range of emotions, from anger to despair. (Screenshot/They Sigh or Show You: Discrimination and ID Card Use Report)

After their wrongful arrest, Johnson and Tweedy said they felt anxious, depressed and panicked.

“One of the things I see a lot is my granddaughter standing in handcuffs in the street crying. I’ll never, never forget that image,” Johnson told reporters in September.

Read Tuesday’s full report here.

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First Nations Aboriginal racism

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