Montreal·Exclusive

'You're not an Indian': Mohawk woman says clerk rejected status card, saying she didn't look Indigenous

A Kahnawake Mohawk says a clothing store clerk in downtown Montreal “fat-shamed” her and said she didn't look Indigenous enough to have an Indian status card exempting her from provincial sales tax.

Kahnawake woman says cashier also 'fat-shamed' her, mocking her weight in photo ID

Orenda Boucher-Curotte said after being told 'That's not you in that photo' by a store clerk who refused to accept her status card, she's awaiting an apology and a promise it won't happen again. (Simon Nakonechny/CBC)

A Mohawk woman from Kahnawake says a clothing store clerk in downtown Montreal "fat-shamed" her and said she didn't look Indigenous enough to have an Indian status card.

Orenda Boucher-Curotte was shopping for a winter coat last Friday at Kiki & Co. in the Alexis-Nihon shopping centre.

But when she went to pay and showed her status card to claim a provincial sales tax exemption, she said what should have been a routine transaction turned ugly.

The cashier "took my card and she looked at it, and she took a look at me, and she said, 'That's not you in that photo,'" Boucher-Curotte recounted.

Boucher-Curotte, the co-ordinator of the First Nations centre at nearby Dawson College, said she tried explaining that the picture on the card was old and that she'd changed her hair and lost weight since it was taken, but the cashier didn't believe her.

"She sort of puffed out her cheeks and made this look like her cheeks were getting bigger and said, 'But you're fat in that photo,'" said Boucher-Curotte.

She said the clerk then questioned whether she was Indigenous at all.

"She looked at me again and said, 'Why do you have this card? You're not an Indian.'"

Kiki & Co.'s lawyer, Audi Gozlan, still questioned whether Orenda Boucher-Curotte's identification was 'accurate,' in an interview with CBC News. (Simon Nakonechny/CBC)

The Mohawk woman was shocked by the comment but persisted because she really wanted the coat.

"Then she took another look at me and said, 'Oh, I guess it must be really easy to get one then.'"

Boucher-Curotte said no matter how much she liked the jacket, that comment went too far.

"I said, 'I'm not interested in purchasing anything from a store that employs a racist for a salesperson,'" said Boucher-Curotte.  "I walked out of the store, and [the clerk] kept shouting at me that she wasn't a racist."

Kiki & Co.'s version differs

Kiki & Co. said Boucher-Curotte's version of events is "not exactly how it happened," saying the woman refused to show a second piece of identification, as is required for stores to be able to apply the exemption.

The store's management declined an on-camera interview but spoke to CBC News through its lawyer, Audi Gozlan.

"When it came time to payment, [Boucher-Curotte] flashes her Indian card," said Gozlan.  

"She shows the card and the salesgirl — there are four salespeople there — she looks at it, and she sees that it's two different people," he said.

Gozlan said he understood that the person in front of the cashier "was a blonde and very, very thin."  But the photograph on Boucher-Curotte's status card showed "a person with black hair and much, much heavier."

"So the saleslady says, 'Look, it doesn't look like you, do you have another piece of ID that could confirm what you're showing me right now so I can give you the exemption?'" said Gozlan.

"So the woman says, 'I have nothing else.' She just dropped the coat, she took her stuff and she left, and that was it."

Gozlan continued to question whether Boucher-Curotte's identification was "accurate."

Not everyone's going to look like the back of the old American nickel.- Kahnawake Mohawk Council spokesman Joe Delaronde

The spokesman for the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake, Joe Delaronde, said it's important for retailers to understand that not all Indigenous people have a stereotypical "Native" look.

"Not everyone's going to look like the back of the old American nickel," he said.

Delaronde said most retailers are happy to apply the QST exemption since it doesn't cost them anything, but occasionally these episodes do happen.

Mohawk Council of Kahnawake spokesman Joe Delaronde said an Indian status card, issued by the federal government, is not 'easy to get.'

"There's a little bit of resentment by some people saying, 'Well, why should you get this discount?  I have to pay my taxes,'" said Delaronde.  

"Basically, look around here: this is all our land, and it's kind of a bit of payback."

Delaronde said many Kahnawake Mohawks are commonly mistaken as white because the Mohawks were one of the first Indigenous peoples to have contact with European settlers, dating back hundreds of years.

Hoping to bring awareness

Boucher-Curotte says that's definitely the case for her, and she's used to presenting extra identification when claiming the tax exemption.

The Mohawk woman said she would have gladly showed her driver's licence had she been treated more respectfully.

She said she isn't looking for attention, just to bring awareness to the issue.

"I'd like an apology from the store owner," she said.  "And a commitment to make sure that it doesn't happen again."

As for the coat, Boucher-Curotte said she went to another store in the same mall on Monday and had a much more pleasant retail experience.

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