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NWT SPCA manager behaved in racist manner, says MLA

Thebacha MLA Frieda Martselos said the experience of systemic racism occurred during a visit to the NWT SPCA in Yellowknife on Feb. 1 GNWT image

Thebacha MLA Frieda Martselos said she experienced systemic racism at the NWT SPCA in Yellowknife.

During the Wednesday session of the legislative assembly, Martselos said that during an interaction with a manager at the Yellowknife animal shelter on Feb. 1, “I strongly feel I experienced systemic racism.”

She recalled the experience in the same session of the assembly where her motion on reviewing GNWT policies for racial and cultural bias was passed.

Shelter staff helpful at first

When Martselos visited the shelter in February to look for a puppy to adopt, she said staff were initially helpful and kind.

They introduced her to a puppy she was interested in adopting, and was told the dog was still available.

She said the mood abruptly changed when a member of the upper management entered the room.

'Microaggressive' response from manager

“I turned to her, told her my name and asked if the puppy was still available for adoption. Then, without any introduction or any greeting at all, she pointed and quickly and coldly said, 'That dog is already spoken for.' Then she turned around, left the room and never came back," said Martselos.

“I felt very odd about that interaction. It was a very unfriendly and microaggressive response. I considered going to the board of directors but felt it wouldn't change much. As a Dene woman I know what racism looks like and feels like.”

The MLA said she has received mixed responses from people with whom she has shared her experience.

“Some people seem completely unconvinced that any racism occurred and they'd rather find excuses on behalf of the individual in question. 'Maybe she was having a bad day,' they say. 'Maybe she was busy in that moment,' they say. I'm sure that most Black, Brown or Indigenous folks who hear this story will know the feeling I'm describing.”

A spokesperson for the NWT SPCA said its board of directors is meeting Thursday night and would provide a response to Martselos' allegation on Friday.