Meet Canada's 'Rachel Dolezal'

CBC finds Carrie Bourassa, a leader in Indigenous health, is not Indigenous
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 3, 2021 8:12 AM CDT

One of Canada's leading experts in Indigenous health issues gave a TEDx talk in 2019 dressed in a shawl and Métis sash. Holding a feather, Carrie Bourassa identified herself as "Morning Star Bear," before describing Métis, Anishinaabe, and Tlingit heritage. In a shocking twist, a CBC investigation has determined Bourassa—scientific director of the Institute of Indigenous Peoples' Health at the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, a federal agency—is of Russian, Polish, and Czechoslovakian descent. Bourassa's great-grandmother, whom she has claimed was Tlingit, actually migrated to Canada from Russia and married a Russian-born farmer around 1913, according to the CBC. The Guardian notes the case is drawing comparisons to Rachel Dolezal in the US.

In response, Bourassa—also a professor at the University of Saskatchewan, where she runs the Indigenous community-based health research lab known as Morning Star Lodge—told the CBC that she was "deeply offended by anyone disputing my links to the Métis community," though she previously acknowledged that she does not appear on the Métis Nation–Saskatchewan Citizenship Registry. "'Who is a Métis citizen' is the sole determination of the Métis Nation–Saskatchewan and no one else," its president, Glen McCallum, told CTV Saskatoon. But Bourassa claimed she was adopted into the Métis community (and five other communities) by a friend of her late grandfather, and "the family has taken me as if I was their blood family."

"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," counters Winona Wheeler, an associate professor of Indigenous studies at U of S and a member of Manitoba's Fisher River Cree Nation, per the CBC. "When I saw that TEDx, to be quite honest, I was repulsed by how hard she was working to pass herself off as Indigenous." Though the CIHR and the university initially supported Bourassa, both announced she was on immediate leave Monday, per the CBC. The university has launched its own investigation, acknowledging "serious concerns with the additional information revealed in Dr. Bourassa's responses to the media and with the harm that this information may be causing Indigenous individuals and communities." (More Canada stories.)

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