Mistissini’s Henry Miamscum recently was denied a room at Hotel Chibougamau in a time of dire need. His wife had been taken to the Chibougamau hospital from Mistissini for a medical emergency. Those who know Miamscum, know he is a non-drinker and well respected within the James Bay community. His non-native brother-in-law, however, was able to procur a room for Miamscum the next day.
The Notion has previously addressed this issue of Crees being denied rooms at the Hotel Chibougamau among others.
After this most recent incident, the Nation conducted an experiment to verify problems with access because of race or language. So we phoned the Hotel Chibougamau. One Nation employee, speaking English, asked for a reservation for the 24th and 25th of January. The hotel’s receptionist did not hesitate in saying there was no room at the inn.
No more than two minutes later, another Nation employee called. Speaking French, she asked to make a reservation for the same nights. After a short pause, the receptionist asked if she wanted one or two beds, then if she wanted smoking or non-smoking as both were available.
A call was made to the Quebec’s Human Rights Commission to find out if there were other complaints against the hotel. The Nation was told that any other complaints were private information. They could not even say if there were others.
Calvin Blacksmith of the Mistissini Police says that he hasn’t heard of Crees being refused a room but he heard that at Hotel Chibougamau people are expected to put a deposit of $150 to $300 if they don’t have a credit card. The hotel is one of four in the city, and the only one located downtown. The others are located at the outskirts of town. Blacksmith says that because alcohol is not sold in the community of Mistissini and Chibougamau is only one hour away, “People go to downtown, that’s where all the action is. People go to the bars practically every weekend.”
At the end of the night, those who are refused at the hotel or cannot afford the high deposits are resorting to other methods of survival during winter. “They will sneak into the shopping centre or hang out in a place until they cool off, then eventually they’ll pick up a ride by someone they know,” says Blacksmith.
Roseanne Poirier, director of operations at the Hotel Chibougamau, denies that they refuse rooms to people on any grounds. She did say that there are a minority who cause trouble and they are not welcome at the hotel. This includes Native and non-Natives. Regarding the deposit, Poirier says that the hotel demands a deposit of $100 from anyone who does not have a credit card. She also says that deposit amounts vary from hotel to hotel but are always $100 at Hotel Chibougamau.
When asked about the refusals, Poirier claims to not be aware of any ill treatment to its customers. “Normally we rent our rooms to everyone, but we don’t have control over all our employees. I have a hard time believing they were refused a room. It’s easy for you to say that it happened but I would need proof, dates, etc. If he was refused it’s probably because of something else, for certain. Maybe he came before and made trouble.”
When told he was an upstanding citizen, she said, “I find it very regrettable. That is not our goal. If it did really happen, I am very sorry.” She plans to meet with her employees, “I will make an inquiry into this matter because I am not up to date on it.”
Being refused at the inn could very well be the cause of an increase of stolen vehicles from the area says Blacksmith. “We’ve picked up vehicles from people in Chibougamau or people that were seen in Chibougamau and it’s probably due to the fact that some people are getting refused, and then when they see a vehicle running in Chibougamau, they take off with it. They come to Mistissini. We had two incidents like that where some vehicles were reported stolen in Chibougamau and they were found in our community.”
Both Poirier and Blacksmith acknowledged that there is a drinking problem in Chibougamau and that not everyone should be made to look guilty. Poirier even said that it was too bad there were only a few who set the precedent that every Native is a drunk, instilling fear in some of her employees.
The Nation has filed a complaint with the Quebec’s Human Rights Commission for language discrimination and was given a file number.
If anyone has any information regarding refusal or unfair treatment at the Hotel Chibougamau, please contact the Nation.