'I feel like I don't deserve a job': Job-seeking First Nations student says she experiences subtle racism

Makayla Masuskapoe is a First Nations high school student in Saskatoon. Last week, while handing out resumes, an incident took place with a potential employer that she says felt racially motivated.

Makayla Masuskapoe says she felt ashamed of her First Nations background after incident with store manager

Makayla Masuskapoe says she believes a recent negative job-hunting experience she had a Saskatoon store was racially motivated. (Submitted by Makayla Masuskapoe)

Entering the workforce is a rite of passage into adulthood for high school students, but what happens when employers focus on skin colour when taking resumés?

Makayla Masuskapoe said she felt ashamed of her First Nations background when it happened to her.

"I called my dad after it happened and he told me, like, 'That's how it is — that's how it is for First Nations people in Saskatoon," the high school student said.

She said the incident took place last Tuesday in a store located in downtown Saskatoon.

After school, she went into a shop in hopes of dropping off her resumé with the manager. In response, she was given a card to apply online.

Honestly, when I go out and hand out resumés, I feel really ashamed of who I am.- Makayla Masuskapoe

When Masuskapoe was unable to find the job posting on her phone, she went back to the store to ask for guidance.

"I was waiting in line and the manager was talking to three girls, and they were laughing and talking about their hair, their nails — just about random stuff," Masuskapoe said.

"They were Caucasian and they had nice clothes on. And me — I had my bead earrings on.… They were different than me."

Makayla Masuskapoe says she felt 'heartbroken' after the experience. (Submitted by Makayla Masuskapoe)

When it was her turn at the till, she said she was met with a change in tone from the manager.

"She was telling me just a whole bunch of hurtful stuff," Masuskapoe said.

The manager peppered Masuskapoe with questions, like "Do you even have a computer? Why are you using your phone?"

When Masuskapoe attempted to respond, she said the manager cut her off and walked away.

Embarrassed, Masuskapoe immediately left the mall. She said she interpreted the interaction as racially motivated.

"I felt really heartbroken," she said. "Honestly, when I go out and hand out resumés, I feel really ashamed of who I am. I walk around and I feel like I don't deserve a job."

Subtle racism

Cornelia Laliberte, co-ordinator for First Nations, Métis and Inuit education with Saskatoon's Catholic school board, said she isn't surprised that the Indigenous community still faces racism in the city —  even if it's subtle.

"As a minoritized person myself, the subtlety that I experience is very much personal. It's interpreted by me to be about race."

For example, she said, if someone who was not a person of colour was in Masuskapoe's shoes, the incident in question would not be interpreted as an issue of race, but could be seen as a customer service issue on the part of the manager. 

She said students in her school division are taught about racist attitudes, but mostly in relation to the country's colonial past than the kinds of subtle racism they may experience.

"We don't specifically talk about the implications for going out into the workforce."

Laliberte advises Indigenous job seekers to remain hopeful and positive when they come across a negative experience.

"Not everybody treats people a certain way,"  she said. "There are good employers out there."