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Aboriginal leader complains about screening officer touching sacred items

WINNIPEG – A Manitoba aboriginal leader is filing a complaint over the handling of sacred items in his pipe bundle by security staff at Ottawa's Macdonald-Cartier International Airport.


February 16, 2016
By The Canadian Press

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Grand Chief Derek Nepinak of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs says he told a screening officer on Monday what was in the bundle before it went through the X-ray machine.

Nepinak says despite his protests, random officers unwrapped it afterwards and handled its contents, dropping a tobacco tie in the process.

He says in aboriginal culture, only the custodian of a pipe may handle it and only with the custodian’s permission can anyone else ever touch it.

Nepinak is filing his complaint with the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority.

The agency says an investigation will take place once Nepinak’s complaint is reviewed.

Nepinak said the pipe – which came from a distinguished elder who has since died – travels with him on significant matters and he treats it with great respect.

He said he understands the need for security protocol but he’s been through airports in Paris, New Zealand and other Canadian cities and the procedure is the same – the pipe is X-rayed and never touched. Officers may ask to see it but they never touch it.

“I believe it to be one of the highest forms of disrespect that you could ever show to sacred items of our culture when somebody handles them uninvited or for the wrong reasons,” said Nepinak.

Nepinak said he will be contacting Prime Minister Justin Trudeau about the larger issue, which relates to reconciliation.

“We have to have a discussion about it as a higher-profile matter,” Nepinak said. “The issue of respect is lost in the need to demonstrate power and authority over someone.”

Robert Labbe, spokesman for the authority, said the screening officers involved in the incident would have received training, as do all screening officers.

“CATSA takes the screening of sacred items seriously and has procedures in place to ensure that the items are treated with respect. Screening officers are trained on the significance of such items and to screen them with care,” said Labbe.