Indigenous man kicked out of McDonald's after racist confrontation says he feels lucky to be alive
Zach Running Coyote says he was the subject of a racist, profanity-laced encounter that could have ended badly
An Indigenous man who says he was ordered to leave a Red Deer, Alta., McDonald's after a racist encounter with another customer says he's speaking out about the incident because he feels lucky to be alive.
"I spoke up because I'm alive, because not everyone is at the end of these things, and I want to give my people a better chance," said Zack Running Coyote.
Running Coyote, who is an actor from Rosebud, Alta., said he was eating in the Red Deer restaurant on Friday night when a story appeared on television about charges being dropped against a rancher who had been accused of shooting at trespassers.
Warning: video contains harsh language
The 22-year-old said a man who was with a woman saw the story, described the ruling as a victory for Canada and said that if someone came on his property he would shoot them dead.
"In the light of recent happenings in Canada, in rural provinces regarding guns and properties and Indigenous people, it's a frustrating comment to hear," Running Coyote said. He shook his head in response, which prompted an exchange with the other customer, he said.
"The guy sees me and says, 'What's your f--king problem?' I hear him say to his girlfriend, 'That, "insert expletive," little Indian know-it-all should mind his own business.'"
Running Coyote said he sat there for a minute and then decided to confront the man, saying if he was going to use a racial slur, the man should say it to his face. The other man swore at him repeatedly and the exchange ended when the man's meal was served. But Running Coyote said the pair sneered and swore at him again as they left the restaurant, so he followed them outside.
"I poke my head outside the door and as he's getting into his convertible I shout 'Hey dude, thanks so much for your opinion, it means a lot — really, really helps my people so I just want to thank you for your kindness,'" he said.
He said the man responded by saying he was sick of Running Coyote's people "mooching" off tax dollars and living on welfare. He then hurled more profanity as he sped away.
Running Coyote said he returned to the McDonald's to finish his meal and apologized to the staff, but was told by a manager to leave for trying to start a fight.
"I tried to just say, can you hear my story? And he won't hear me,'" Running Coyote said, adding the manager threatened to call police.
'McDonald's is for everyone'
Running Coyote said he was contacted by McDonald's after a video he posted to Facebook detailing the incident went viral.
Bob Carpenter, the franchisee for McDonald's Red Deer, said in an emailed statement that the situation was disappointing on many levels, but is being used as a learning experience for restaurant staff.
"McDonald's is a place for everyone. As a McDonald's franchisee, I pride myself on creating and maintaining a diverse and accepting environment for all my guests and employees. Discrimination of any kind, including racist taunts, is simply not tolerated in my restaurants," he said.
"Whenever violent, aggressive or threatening situations occur, managers are directed to ask the individuals involved to leave the restaurant. This is how we maintain a safe and secure space for everyone."
Carpenter said he spoke with Running Coyote following the incident "and let him know he is certainly welcome in my restaurants."
Running Coyote called the response "encouraging," but said it was still disappointing that, given the recent media attention to racist incidents in Canada, companies are not better prepared to handle these types of situations.
"I stood up for myself because I expected that the establishment would say, 'Hey this isn't acceptable,'" he said.
Particularly in a climate when Indigenous people have been left injured or dead after altercations with police or residents in rural communities, he said, things could have turned out very differently.
"I'm the same age as Colten Boushie was when he died, and too many young Native men who don't know how to speak up about it don't feel adequate speaking up about it, don't know what to say or simply aren't given the opportunity to speak up," he said.
"If I'd been more belligerent and the police had been called and the police shoot first and ask questions later, that kind of thing, I could be dead."
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With files from the CBC's Lucie Edwardson and The Canadian Press