Canadian News Nov 28, 2021 12:28 PM EST

Canadian professor who falsely claimed to be Indigenous loses her job

Carrie Bourassa has claimed to be Indigenous for her entire career. An investigation showed that she is a descendant of Russians, Poles, and Czechoslovakians.

Canadian professor who falsely claimed to be Indigenous loses her job
Libby Emmons Brooklyn, NY

Canadian academic and Indigenous health expert Dr. Carrie Bourassa was revealed to not be Indigenous, despite her claims to be part of the Bear Clan of the Anishinaabe and Métis who goes by Morning Star Bear. She has now lost her government job and her professorship.

She also claims to be Tlingit, but her sister contradicted Bourassa's claims, saying that she, and the family, are actually white, without blood ties to Indigenous Canadians. Bourassa has claimed to be Indigenous for her entire career.

Bourassa's sister came forward after the CBC published an article by Geoff Leo slamming the professor for being Indigenous without having the DNA to back it up. Jody Burnett told the Daily Mail that her sister's "description of our family is inaccurate, not rooted in fact and moreover is irrelevant to the issue of whether or not [she] is Métis." A genealogical investigation showed that Bourassa is a descendant of Russians, Poles, and Czechoslovakians. Her ancestors in Canada were immigrant farmers, the Daily Mail reports.

Bourassa, who was put on leave as of Nov. 1 from her post as professor at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, hasn't backed up her claims with genealogical evidence. She's offered no blood lineage to prove that she is Métis, Anishnaabe or Tlingit. In her defense, she has claimed that she obtained membership into these communities not through blood ties, but through acceptance into those communities.

The University of Saskatchewan brought in a Metis lawyer to investigate whether or not the professor is Indigenous. It was in light of the investigation, which is to determine whether or not she misrepresents herself, that Bourassa was put on leave.

The trouble began when Bourassa gave an emotional TEDx Talk at the school in 2019 in which she introduced herself and her heritage, leaning into her Regina upbringing in a "dysfunctional family surrounded by addiction, violence, and racism," CBC reports.

Bourassa wore full "tribal regalia" to that talk, reports the New York Post. She wore a blue shawl, braided hair with a feather, and gave her personal, tearful account to a welcoming crowd of supporters.

She is an Indigenous health expert who spoke at length about her late grandfather, Clifford Laroque, who she said encouraged her toward a career in law or medicine. Amid the violence, Bourassa said, her grandfather was her saving grace. Education was not a tradition in Bourassa's family, she said, noting that no one in her family had attained a formal education past the 8th grade. Bourassa went on to become a professor.

It was the TEDx talk that began to give her away to colleagues, who didn't think Bourassa really had the Indigenous bonafides to support her claim. Despite her personal story, her braids, her feather, associate University of Saskatchewan professor Winona Wheeler started to dig into Bourassa's genealogy. Another colleague, Caroline Tait, also began looking into Bourassa after the talk, and upon realizing that her sister, Burnett, did not claim to be Indigenous.

Tait and Bourassa were colleagues for more than a decade when Bourassa began adjusting her dress to be more representative of an Indigenous background. Tait reportedly confronted Bourassa, and said that Bourassa replied, "I have twice done my genealogy and received Metis local memberships and I am accepted in the community."

The Daily Mail notes that Bourassa declined to provide her genealogical evidence to Tait, and that the "Canadian Institute of Health Research's system only asks members of its Indigenous Canada Research Chairs (CRCs to self-identify..."

Rob Ines, who pointed that out on Facebook, went on to question just how many of those who identify as Indigenous actually have Indigenous blood lines. "How many CRCs in the country are Indigenous? No one knows. How do universities know if their CRCs are even Indigenous? They don’t know – they only know they self-identified. Even though universities say identity is a private matter [but] they also publicly boast about how many Indigenous CRCs they have," Ines wrote on Facebook, per the Daily Mail.

Wheeler is also an academic in the field of Indigenous studies and has documentation to back up her claims to be a member of Manitoba's Fisher River Cree Nation, according to the Post. Wheeler found that Bourassa is simply a white lady who made false claims, and she reported her findings as to Bourassa's blood line to the press.

Bourassa, however, was not to be undone by Wheeler's expose, and said that her affiliation with the Metis was through adoption. Her claim is that her grandfather's friend, who she did not name, adopted her into the Metis. With regards to her Tlingit claims, she said that her great-grandmother was a Tlingit woman named Johanna Salaba "who married an immigrant. They moved from the far northern B.C. into Saskatchewan and they had a family."

"Even though Clifford passed, those bonds are even deeper than death because the family has taken me as if I was their blood family," Bourassa said in a statement. "In turn, I serve the Métis community to the best of my ability."

In that statement, Bourassa said: "To be clear, I am Métis and identify as such and belong to the First Indigenous Riel Métis (F.I.R.M.) Community of Regina. I have been vetted through two other locals which are Riel Métis Council of Regina Inc. I obtained that membership on May 10, 2006. I was also accepted into the Regina Riel Métis Council on July 29, 2013." Her statement was published on IndigenousHealthLab.com

"Here is my story," Bourassa wrote, "I was adopted by Clifford Larocque after my grandfather passed away. Our community knows who I am and embraces me. In our Métis ways, in the event of a loss, community members would adopt the individual who had no family and they would then automatically be seen as family. We see this as custom adoption. Those adoptions were more meaningful and have stronger bonds than colonial adoptions. Oral history and adoptions are the Indigenous way. In turn, I serve the Métis community to the best of my ability."

She took aim at Wheeler, and the others who complain that her career and her identity are bogus because she doesn't have a genetic connection to Indigenous people's of Canada, but she is also undertaking her own investigation into her blood line.

"Now, following months of incessant bullying and lateral violence, it is apparent that I must adhere to Western ideologies, such as blood quantum, to prove something that the communities I serve, the Elders who support me, and myself already know," Bourassa wrote following the CBC expose. "Blood quantums are not our way, but I have been working with a Métis genealogist to investigate my lineage. The preliminary findings have identified inaccuracies in the published and circulated lineage (from ancestry.ca) provided to CBC." At the end of that statement Bourassa said this was the last time she would address the matter.

Prior to the expose showing that Bourassa is just a white lady who used claims of Indigenous affiliation to boost her career and otherwise downtrodden personal story, she had been celebrated by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research's Institute of Indigenous Peoples’ Health for her achievement of being named as one of Canada's 100 most powerful women of 2021 by a women's advocacy group, WXN in Toronto.

In her exposing Bourassa's lineage to the press, Wheeler said that the TEDx talk she's given "repulsed" her, claiming that Bourassa's claim to being Indigenous was tantamount to abuse.

"When I saw that TEDx, to be quite honest, I was repulsed by how hard she was working to pass herself off as Indigenous," Wheeler told the CBC. "You've got no right to tell people that’s who you are in order to gain legitimacy, to get positions and to get funding. That's abuse."

Wheeler founds that Bourassa's background was "entirely of European descent," CBC reports. A Metis professor at the University of Toronto, who had contributed a chapter to a book on Indigenous parenting to which Bourassa had also contributed, Janet Smylie, was also horrified after "conducting her own research" into Bourassa's blood line.

CBC reports that Smylie said Bourassa's claims to be indigenous "makes you feel a bit sick."

"To have an impostor who is speaking on behalf of Métis and Indigenous people to the country about literally what it means to be Métis … that’s very disturbing and upsetting and harmful," Smylie said.

Bourassa said in her statement of the CBC article: "All that the article that Geoff Leo penned proves is that the information provided to Leo was biased as he only included what was relevant to the point he, as a non-Indigenous man with no connections to communities, was trying to prove."

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