Indigenous people say racism-tainted drive-by violence all too common

An Indigenous woman in Thunder Bay, Ont., was hospitalized last week after a trailer hitch was thrown at her from a moving vehicle. Indigenous people in other parts of Canada report similar incidents in urban centres.

After violent incident in Thunder Bay, others share similar experiences

Barbara Kentner, left, was struck by a trailer hitch thrown from a moving car in Thunder Bay, Ont., on Jan. 29. Her sister, Melissa Kentner, right, says police have made an arrest in the case. (Jody Porter/CBC)

Indigenous people in multiple cities say having something thrown at you from a passing vehicle is so common, people don't even bother to report the assaults.

"There's young men, on the weekends, they will throw beer bottles at you and yell out 'bogan' or 'squaw' or 'whore,'" said Deanne Hupfield, who grew up in Thunder Bay.

"I never thought to call the police. It happened to everybody, not just me."

A First Nations woman in Thunder Bay, Ont., was hospitalized on Jan. 29 after a trailer hitch was thrown at her from a moving vehicle while she was walking. Barbara Kentner, 34, required surgery for the injuries she sustained to her stomach.

Some, including Anna-Betty Achneepineskum, the deputy grand chief of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation, have called the violence a hate crime, while the Thunder Bay police refer to it as an assault.

Police charged Brayden Bushby, 18, with aggravated assault for the attack on Kentner.

But Indigenous people from B.C. to Ontario told the CBC they, too, have had things thrown at them, often accompanied by racial slurs. Here are some of their stories.

Thunder Bay

"Thunder Bay is not a safe place for Indigenous women," Deanne Hupfield says. (Nadya Kwandibens)
"[It's] not a safe place for Indigenous women," Hupfield, 33, said about Thunder Bay.

Hupfield, a childhood friend of Kentner, said women in particular are always at risk in the city's Fort William neighbourhood.

She said she has had many negative experiences while walking through the city.

She remembers being followed when she was eight years old.

"This non-native man tried to get me to go for a ride with him. I lied and said that I had to go home, and then I ran home crying, petrified because I knew that wasn't right," Hupfield said.

The Fort Williams neighbourhood has a large Indigenous population.

"It's a low-income area. Lots of Indigenous women live there," said Hupfield.

Having things thrown from vehicles at Indigenous pedestrians is so common in the neighbourhood that Hupfield can't remember how many times it has happened to her, she said.

Such incidents often go unreported because the Thunder Bay police service hasn't always had the best relationship with the Indigenous community, she said.

"People need to start reporting it."


David Paul now lives in Fort Frances, Ont., and worries for the safety of his young family. (Submitted)
David Paul, 33, is from the Anishinaabeg of Naongashiing First Nation, but he grew up in Winnipeg's Weston area.

It was common to have things thrown at him from vehicles as a youth, he said, telling the story of one incident.

"Me and my buddy were walking down Logan. This car drove by, it was going really fast, and they threw eggs at us. Didn't think anything of it. They came back and were calling us little f---ers and stupid Indians," Paul said about an incident that happened when he was 13.

"When we were younger, we had a flight response," he said. "Back then, it's not like there was cellphones. When we told our parents, it was brushed off."

Paul never bothered to report the incidents to authorities because it was a common experience.

"I felt like no one would do anything anyway," he said.

He now worries about his children.

"I don't like letting my kids walk around. I'm scared for them."


Will Landon says racialized violence was a normal part of life for him growing up. (Submitted)
University student Will Landon, 23, grew up in Kenora, Ont., but had a bad experience when he visited Saskatoon three years ago.

He was walking by himself in the western part of the city to meet up with a friend when he saw a pickup truck approach him.

"They had leaned out of their window and were driving towards me. The guy on the driver's side leaned out of his window, with a Motts [bottle] in his hand. I didn't notice it at first, until he yelled 'get drunk Indian!'" said Landon, the Assembly of First Nations youth representative for Ontario.

As soon as the racial slurs were hurled from the moving vehicle, the glass bottle smashed at his feet.

He didn't report it to police.

"I have always experienced racialized violence a lot of my life, so I'm really desensitized to it. I really didn't think much of it except for 'Oh wow. I'm glad that didn't hit me.'"

Hate crime?

CBC asked the Thunder Bay Police Service whether they consider what happened to Kentner a hate crime.

"The police are consulting with the Crown in order to evaluate if evidence gathered to date indicates if this assault can be designated as a hate motivated incident," police said in a news release.

"That's still on the table for consideration, but initially when our investigators went to the hospital to interview the victim … they indicated to our investigators that they didn't feel like it was targeted," police spokesperson Chris Adams said.

The service did not provide statistics on how many similar incidents are reported, but did acknowledge there is a history of it in the city.

"There have been on occasion. We have had reports of persons being the victims of eggs, drinks. I don't think it's a high number, but it's still a disturbing fact that if it's happening," said Adams.

The city plans to launch a hotline for any race-based complaints and assistance for city residents soon, he said. Details about the hotline are expected to be announced in the spring.


Lenard Monkman is Anishinaabe from Lake Manitoba First Nation, Treaty 2 territory. He has been an associate producer with CBC Indigenous since 2016. Follow him on Twitter: @Lenardmonkman1