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A Health Expert Claimed To Be Indigenous. Her Colleagues Say She Has No Evidence.
Hoop dancer Rhonda Doxtator. National Aboriginal Day and Indigenous Arts Festival at Fort York in Toronto.
Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images

One of Canada’s top experts on Indigenous health is under fire for allegedly lying about her ancestry after claiming to be of various Indigenous descent.

Carrie Bourassa, scientific director of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research’s Institute of Indigenous People’s Health, claimed during a TEDx Talk in September 2019 that she was of Métis, Anishinaabe, and Tlingit descent, but her colleagues are now calling her claims into question, according to CBC News. As the outlet reported:

With a feather in her hand and a bright blue shawl and Métis sash draped over her shoulders, Carrie Bourassa made her entrance to deliver a TEDx Talk at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon in September 2019, where she detailed her personal rags-to-riches story.

“My name is Morning Star Bear,” she said, choking up. “I’m just going to say it — I’m emotional.”

The crowd applauded and cheered.

“I’m Bear Clan. I’m Anishinaabe Métis from Treaty Four Territory,” Bourassa said, explaining that she grew up in Regina’s inner city in a dysfunctional family surrounded by addiction, violence and racism.

She claimed that her Métis grandfather would sit her on his knee and tell her she would be “a doctor or a lawyer.”

“He would make me repeat it over and over as there was chaos going on, usually violence,” Bourassa claimed. “And why would he make me say that? Because there was nobody in my family that had ever gone past Grade 8.”

Bourassa is now one of the most respected experts on Indigenous health in Canada and a professor at the University of Saskatchewan’s department of community health and epidemiology. She also directs an Indigenous community-based health research lab known as the Morning Star Lodge, CBC reported.

But, the outlet noted, some of Bourassa’s colleagues are calling her ancestry claims into question:

But some of her colleagues, like Winona Wheeler, an associate professor of Indigenous studies at the University of Saskatchewan, say Bourassa’s story is built on a fundamental falsehood.

Wheeler, a member of Manitoba’s Fisher River Cree Nation, says genealogical records show Bourassa is not Indigenous at all, but rather of entirely European descent.

“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 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.”

Another colleague, Janet Smylie, described by the CBC as “a Métis family medicine professor from the University of Toronto,” wrote a chapter in a 2017 book about Indigenous parenting that was edited by Bourassa. Smylie says she discovered Bourassa wasn’t honest about her identity after her own research.

“It makes you feel a bit sick,” Smylie told CBC. “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.”

The CBC traced Bourassa’s ancestry lines to Europe and said it was “unable to locate any Indigenous ancestor.”

The Guardian reported in early November, just days after the CBC published its article, that Bourassa was “placed on administrative leave from her university after an investigation challenged her claims of Indigenous ancestry.”

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