WINNIPEG — Some indigenous people say Winnipeg's taxi industry is rife with racism and are calling for a boycott until their concerns are addressed.
Jackie Traverse said she and other indigenous women are treated "like garbage'' — subject to discrimination, sexual harassment and even assault. Most cab drivers demand payment up front from indigenous passengers, if they stop to pick them up at all, she said.
Calls for a boycott
Traverse has started up a volunteer ride-sharing page for indigenous women and is calling for people to boycott the taxis.
"I'm hoping to hit them in the wallet,'' said Traverse, a 46-year-old artist. "We make up a good portion of their income and you don't treat customers like garbage.''
Racism in Winnipeg
Winnipeg has spent the past year trying to address race relations after Maclean's magazine dubbed it the most racist city in Canada.
Despite a recent race summit, problems persist. A decorated indigenous war veteran says he was recently kicked out of a downtown mall by a security guard. A grand chief complained last month she was profiled and followed around by security in store before approaching the manager.
"I'm hoping to hit them in the wallet.''
Traverse said she has been forced out of a moving cab by a driver and was assaulted years ago but didn't to press charges. She has resorted to waving money while trying to hail a cab just to get one to stop. She said she is almost always asked to pay for the fare up front.
"They shouldn't paint everybody with the same brush,'' she said.
The taxi board's response
Taxicab board chair David Sanders said the board has received a few formal complaints and acts quickly to investigate them when they come up. But he said people often wait too long to lodge a complaint or don't show up to a formal hearing, which makes it harder to address.
"As far as we're concerned, everyone should feel safe taking a cab in Winnipeg,'' Sanders said. "The extent to which they don't means we have more work to do.''
The board has reached out to indigenous organizations and will look at providing more cultural training — including indigenous history and conflict resolution — to drivers, he said.
"As far as we're concerned, everyone should feel safe taking a cab in Winnipeg.''
But Grand Chief Sheila North Wilson, who represents northern First Nations, said that's just a start. More indigenous people should be hired by the industry and there should be a greater emphasis on educating all newcomers about First Nations, she said.
Racism has become commonplace for indigenous people, North Wilson said. As the number of missing and murdered indigenous women hovers around 1,200, North Wilson said the inability of young women to count on a safe ride home is putting them at risk.
"It puts people who already at vulnerable stages in their lives to be more exposed to the element of racism on our streets,'' said North Wilson, adding the tolerance for racism is running out.
"Marginalized people (are) standing up for themselves and saying enough is enough. We demand respect and deserve respect.''
ALSO ON HUFFPOST: