Another allegedly white woman has been accused of faking her identity as a woman of color, this time in Canada. Former scientific director of the Institute of Indigenous Peoples’ Health Carrie Bourassa has been accused of faking her Indigenous identity. But unlike the instances of Rachel Dolezal, who wrote an entire book about her decision to identify as a Black woman, or Marvel Comics’ editor-in-chief C.B. Cebulski, who advanced his career by pretending to be Japanese, this time there might be some consequences.
For over a decade, Bourassa, an accomplished academic who worked as a professor at the University of Saskatchewan, has publicly identified herself as Métis and Anishinaabe with Tlingit heritage. Over the years, she reportedly benefitted from various grants and financial assistance programs meant to help Indigenous students, and once gave a TEDx talk about her supposed Métis identity. But a bombshell report published on October 27 by CBC News suggested that there is no evidence to back up these claims. In fact, both CBC News and the New York Post traced her family ancestry to Eastern Europe, and her own colleagues have investigated with similar results. As Winona Wheeler, an associate professor of Indigenous studies at U of S told CBC News in October, “There was nowhere in that family tree where there was any Indigenous person.”
Bourassa responded to the allegations, and while she admitted that she might be lacking any documentation to prove her Métis heritage, she claimed that Clifford Larocque, the president of a local Métis society, had proven her ancestry and offered her membership in 2006. “He did his due diligence. He didn’t just give me a Métis card,” she said in an interview with the Saskatoon StarPhoenix just a few days after the CBC News exposé was originally published. Larocque died in 2018, and this “due diligence” has yet to materialize.
In an official statement posted October 27, Bourassa claimed that Larocque had “adopted” her in 2006 after the death of her grandfather — who she claimed was Métis as well — which she believed should be enough to confirm her Métis identity. “In our Métis ways, in the event of a loss, community members would adopt the individual who had no family and they would automatically be seen as family,” she wrote. “Oral history and adoptions are the Indigenous way. In turn, I serve the Métis community to the best of my ability.”
Indigenous academics are skeptical of Bourassa’s adoption claims, especially as it compares to her previous claims about having Indigenous ancestors. In 2018, for example, Bourassa claimed to have met Tlingit relatives who believed that her great-grandmother was Tlingit, but she now admits that her great-grandmother was not Indigenous. As her former U of S colleague Dr. Caroling Tait told the Saskatoon StarPhoenix, “To claim that she’s adopted is just muddying the waters.”
Four days after the original CBC News article came out, Bourassa stepped down from the Institute of Indigenous People’s Health, and she has since been placed on leave from the University of Saskatchewan.
Bourassa does not appear to have spoken publicly since, but the incident has already had ramifications on how Canadian academia looks at Indigenous identity. On November 27, the U of S president Peter Stoicheff and Métis Nation-Saskatchewan president Glen McCallum publicly announced that they would be working together to ensure that nothing like this ever happens again. Per the agreement, U of S, which previously relied on self-reporting from applicants, will now rely on the Métis Nation-Saskatchewan’s citizenship registry to determine one’s eligibility. “We believe that a key part of reconciliation is recognizing that Indigenous communities define and verify their own memberships,” Stoicheff said, per CBC News.
Under these new guidelines, Bourassa, who does not appear on this citizenship registry, would not be eligible.