A Canadian public health expert who self-identifies as part Tlingit, and part other North American Native, has been placed on leave by the University of Saskatchewan after an investigation by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation found that she has no Native heritage, but is actually of European descent.
Carrie Bourassa, who also calls herself Morning Star Bears, was the subject of a CBC investigation. She is a professor at the university and is the scientific director of the Institute of Indigenous Peoples’ Health for the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, which also suspended her last week.
On Friday, Bourassa, through an anonymous group, claimed that she has the right to “self-identify as an Indigenous Person, within the greater family of Indigenous Peoples in Canada.” She asserted the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act “confirms and legally supports her to Self- identify as an Indigenous Person.”
Bourassa’s news release says that the investigation was instigated by a colleague who has attempted to defame her in previous occasions.
A statement released by her Bourassa’s sister Jody Burnett on behalf of her family says Bourassa’s “description of our family is inaccurate, not rooted in fact and moreover is irrelevant to the issue of whether or not Carrie Bourassa is Métis.”
According to the CBC, Bourassa has for 20 years said that she was born into a family with” Métis, Anishnaabe and Tlingit roots” but has not provided documentation to support her claims.
Bourrassa’s defense statement to the media did not address the problem of her potential heritage hoax, but said she has a legal right to call herself indigenous:
“Dr. Carrie Bourassa responds to the investigation of her cultural identity Manācihitowin: a Cree/Michif phrase that translates to ‘let us respect each other’ REGINA, SK – Dr. Carrie Bourassa asserts and claims the right to self-identify as an Indigenous Person, within the greater family of Indigenous Peoples in Canada. The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and Canada’s Legislation Bill C-15: the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act confirms and legally supports her to Self- identify as an Indigenous Person. Combined, the International UNDRIP standard and now Canadian Law provides her Métis Heritage, Culture, Status and Citizenry the necessary legal coverage. In spite of flawless work performance, Dr. Carrie Bourassa was previously investigated for alleged misconduct, instigated by a colleague who has been persistent in her attempts to defame Dr. Bourassa. Carrie was cleared on all 5 counts of the baseless complaints and is now being subjected to another investigation by the University of Saskatchewan. She is a valued and respected academic and community health researcher and she is entitled to due-process.
As a result, many people now question the U of S’ ability to protect faculty members whose credibility is challenged and called into question by their peers. It should be noted that the institution did not exercise any form of internal resolution or protections for Dr. Bourassa and as a result, the internal issue has been degraded to a public spectacle led by journalists and not by Indigenous people.
The current investigation has become a national issue of debate and the discussion appears to be setting precedence for quantum criteria for Nationhood, challenging the communities right to claim and custom adopt. This poses multiple and multidimensional threats to ALL Indigenous persons globally, as public debate surrounding Indigenous identity seeks to eradicate decades of work of global Indigenous leaders who fought and won sovereignty over the ability to determine who is, and who is not, Indigenous. Determining Indigeneity is not within the purview of the U of S or any other non-Indigenous led institution. Currently, the only jurisdiction for Institutions/workplaces, etc. is self-declaration. Furthermore, Dr. Bourassa’s employment is not determined by nationhood and she is not in an Indigenous designated role within the U of S, but rather is an Indigenous health leader from within the faculty of Community Health and Epidemiology in the College of Medicine as a tenured professor.
Dr. Carrie Bourassa has not falsely identified as Indigenous nor taken space away from Indigenous peoples, either in the form of student funding, grants or career advancements. She has earned her professional status and merit through hard work, self-funding and sheer determination. She is a catalyst for determining indigeneity in Indigenous communities, grassroots and globally. Officially claimed by traditional medicine people and her Métis people, long before being Métis had any benefits.
NOTE: This statement was prepared by an Indigenous collective who chose anonymity at this time, to minimize additional backlash and punitive action in the forms of lateral violence towards themselves and Dr. Bourassa. Lateral violence is a learned behaviour as a result of internalised colonialism and patriarchal methods of governing and developing a society.