A Canadian professor has resigned from a prominent role in the Canadian government’s Institute of Indigenous Peoples’ Health after being exposed for allegedly faking her identity. Carrie Bourassa has claimed that she has Indigenous Canadian ancestry, but a report by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation alleges it’s all an act.
Bourassa has said she’s of Métis and Anishinaabe heritage and a descendant of the Tlingit from the Yukon and British Columbia. She’s one of the “most prominent and respected voices on Indigenous health in the country,” who also runs an Indigenous community-based health research lab at the University of Saskatchewan, according to the CBC. But the news outlet found no evidence of Bourassa having Indigenous ancestry. In fact, after reviewing Bourassa’s genealogy, the CBC said all her roots seem to have originated in Europe.
In a statement to the CBC, Bourassa said she was “shocked” and “dismayed” by the allegations. Despite writing in a 2017 book that her grandfather was Métis, she was vaguer to the CBC, saying she was adopted into the Métis community after her grandfather passed away when she was in her 20s.
“Our community knows who I am and embraces me,” she wrote. “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... In turn, I serve the Métis community to the best of my ability.”
Still, that didn’t explain why Bourassa claimed to have been born into an Indigenous family. She said that she was adopted into five other communities as well.
“It is apparent,” she continued, “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. 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… provided to CBC.”
After being called out, Bourassa agreed to step down from her position at the Canadian Institute of Health Research’s Institute of Indigenous Peoples’ Health. Just last week, the institute congratulated her for being named one of Canada’s most powerful women. However, on Monday, CIHR president Michael Strong said in a statement that he and Bourassa thought that it would be best if she resigned immediately.
“I acknowledge the pain experienced by Indigenous Peoples as a result of this matter, and would like to underscore CIHR’s absolute commitment to reconciliation and continuing to accelerate the self-determination of Indigenous Peoples in health research,” Strong wrote. “Maintaining the trust and confidence of Indigenous communities is essential to the work of CIHR. I will communicate a plan for the ongoing leadership of the Institute in the coming days.”
Bourassa has also been placed on leave from the University of Saskatchewan as the school conducts an investigation.
In a statement Monday, the school’s Office of the Provost said that it has “serious concerns” about Bourassa’s claims and the harmful effects it could have on Indigenous communities.
“USask has placed Dr. Bourassa on leave and she is relieved of all her duties as professor in the USask College of Medicine in the Department of Community Health and Epidemiology. Dr. Bourassa will not return to any faculty duties during this investigation. The university is committed to expediting the investigation process,” the statement said.
In September 2019, Bourassa gave a TEDx talk in Saskatoon where she described her supposed life struggles. Wearing a blue shawl with red embroidered designs and a clasp to button around the collar, she said her name was “Morning Star Bear” and that she was a member of the “Bear Clan.” While holding a feather in her hands, Bourassa detailed her alleged tragic upbringing, dealing with racism and addiction in her family, but noted that it was the encouragement of her Métis grandfather who helped her persevere.
Caroline Tait, a Métis professor and medical anthropologist who has worked alongside Bourassa for a decade at the University of Saskatchewan, said she grew suspicious of Bourassa’s story because she initially only claimed to be Métis, but later added Anishinaabe and Tlingit heritage.
Tait told the CBC that a group of colleagues then investigated Bourassa’s genealogy, finding that her “Indigenous” ancestors were actually of Russian, Polish, and Czechoslovakian descent. They passed their findings on to university management and filed a misconduct complaint.
The CBC detailed their own examination of records including birth certificates, ship manifests, census records, and newspaper clippings.
Winona Wheeler, an associate professor at the University of Saskatchewan and member of the Fisher River Cree Nation in Manitoba who helped Tait research Bourassa’s genealogy, told CBC that she was disgusted when she witnessed Bourassa’s TEDx speech.
“I was repulsed by how hard she was working to pass herself off as Indigenous,” Wheeler said. “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.”