A Canadian university has appointed an independent investigator to probe a professor and public health expert who claimed she was indigenous but her sister later revealed she was actually white.
Carrie Bourassa – a scientific director of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research’s Institute of Indigenous Peoples’ Health and a professor at the University of Saskatchewan – is being investigated after her claims to an indigenous ancestry proved false.
Her colleague, associate professor Winona Wheeler, started researching Bourassa’s heritage after watching her TEDx talk where she claimed to be a part of the Métis, Anishinaabe and Tlingit tribes and arrived in stereotypical tribal wear.
Bourassa wore a bright blue shawl with a red patterned neckline, braided cornrows and accessorized with feathers and called herself ‘Morning Star Bear.’
‘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, who teaches indigenous studies at the university and is a documented member of Manitoba’s Fisher River Cree Nation, told the New York Post.
Caroline Tait said she, Wheeler and other colleagues grew more doubtful when they learned that Bourassa’s sister had stopped claiming Métis ancestry after looking further into her genealogy.
Her sister, Jody Burnett said Bourassa’s ‘description of our family is inaccurate, not rooted in fact and moreover is irrelevant to the issue of whether or not [she] is Métis.’
Carrie Bourassa’s heritage came under question after her TEDx talk where she appeared in a blue shawl with cornrows and accessorized with feathers (pictured)
Bourassa’s colleagues noticed ‘how hard she was working to pass herself off as indigenous’
Bourassa (pictured as a child with her grandparents, middle) claimed she was a part of the Métis, Anishinaabe and Tlingit tribes
Bourassa was a professor at the University of Saskatchewan (pictured), as well as, a government public health expert before being let go
Tait, a Métis professor and medical anthropologist at the University of Saskatchewan who has worked with Bourassa for over 10 years, said she began to question her colleague’s ancestral claims as Bourassa began noting ties to the Anishinaabe and Tlingit communities and dressing in more stereotypically Indigenous styles.
Wheeler and Janet Smylie, a Métis family medicine professor from the University of Toronto who also worked with Bourassa, joined Tait in her suspicions.
Tait confronted Bourassa about what she initially suspected were rumors. Bourassa replied in an email: ‘I have twice done my genealogy and received Métis local memberships and I am accepted in the community.’ She has never shared her genealogies.
The Canadian Institute of Health Research’s system only asks members of its Indigenous Canada Research Chairs (CRCs) to self-identify, a professor Rob Ines claimed.
‘How many CRCs in the country are Indigenous? No one knows. How do universities know if their CRCs are even Indigenous? They don’t know – they only know they self-identified. Even though universities say identity is a private matter [but] they also publicly boast about how many Indigenous CRCs they have,’ he wrote in a Facebook post.
The professors’ investigations led to finding out that their fellow professor was actually from Russia, Poland, and Czechoslovakia and her ancestors were immigrant farmers.
When pressed to prove her heritage, Bourassa reportedly changed her story. She then claimed she was ‘adopted’ into the Métis tribe by a friend and her deceased grandfather Clifford Laroque, the New York Post reported.
‘Even though Clifford passed, those bonds are even deeper than death because the family has taken me as if I was their blood family,’ she said in a statement.
‘In turn, I serve the Métis community to the best of my ability.’
Bourassa claimed that her great-grandmother, Johanna Salaba, was Tlingit and that: ‘She married an immigrant. They moved from the far northern B.C. into Saskatchewan and they had a family.’
Her sister Jody Burnett (pictured) revealed Bourassa’s ‘description of our family is inaccurate’ and that the family was white
Caroline Tait (left) and Winona Wheeler began looking into Bourassa’s heritage in 2019 (pictured: Bourassa (center) and minister of health for the Métis Nation Saskatchewan (right))
She explained that she was first told of her alleged Métis ancestry in 2002 when her sister invited her to a meeting with Larocque when he ‘provided confirmation that our family had [Métis] lineage in B.C.’ and insisted she ‘should be confident in representing myself as such.’
Her sister, Jody Burnett said Bourassa’s ‘description of our family is inaccurate, not rooted in fact and moreover is irrelevant to the issue of whether or not [she] is Métis.
‘It makes you feel a bit sick,” said Smylie told the New York Post. She also helped Bourassa write a book on indigenous parenting.
‘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.’
Bourassa, who was placed on administrative leave on November 1, claimed at the time she didn’t need to provide proof, and accused investigations into her heritage as going against the customs of her tribe.
‘It is apparent 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,’ Bourassa told the CBC at the time, referring to the controversial method in which some tribes in the US acknowledge members through DNA percentages.
‘Blood quantums are not our way, but I have been working with a Métis genealogist to investigate my lineage.’
She had also added that her own investigation began two years ago and was still on-going.
Bourassa has yet to explain why she claimed for the majority of her career that she was born into a Métis family.
Bourassa claims that her great-grandmother, Johanna Salaba, was Tlingit and that: ‘She married an immigrant. They moved from the far northern B.C. into Saskatchewan and they had a family.’