EDMONTON — A First Nations leader in Alberta is questioning Premier Danielle Smith's claim of Indigenous heritage.
Smith has said she has some Cherokee roots and years ago declared herself as a person of mixed race.
Chief Tony Alexis of Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation, west of Edmonton, said Friday that a true Indigenous person would not go against treaty people.
He made the comment at a news conference where leaders of Treaties 6, 7, and 8 said they oppose Smith's plan to introduce an Alberta sovereignty act that would allow her government to opt out of federal measures deemed harmful to provincial interests.
When the leaders were asked about Smith's ancestry claim, many in the room erupted with laughter.
"A true Indigenous person would not go against all the treaty people of this land," said Alexis.
"What we're realizing is that anybody wants to be a part of the Indigenous community if there's a benefit."
A story this week by the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network looked into Smith's family tree and found no evidence of the premier being Indigenous. APTN worked with Canadian and Cherokee genealogists and examined U.S. census reports from the late 1800s in its investigation.
The premier's office issued a statement following the story saying, "Smith hasn’t done a deep dive into her ancestry but is proud of her roots."
"Like so many Albertans that have origins from all over the world, Premier Smith has heard about her heritage from her loved ones. Her family has spoken for years about their ancestry and she is proud of her family history."
APTN says Smith claimed to be a person of "mixed-race ancestry" in 2012, when she was leader of the Wildrose Party.
In the legislature that year, APTN said Smith spoke about her great-great-grandmother.
"She was a member of the Cherokee Nation that had been forcibly relocated to Kansas from the southeastern United States in the 1830s by the U.S. government, a terrible stain on the history of America known as the Trail of Tears,” Smith said, according to legislative records obtained by APTN.
More recently, Smith declared Indigenous lineage during the United Conservative Party leadership race.
"As someone with Indigenous ancestry, I honour the heritage of Canada’s Indigenous Peoples as one of our nation’s and province’s greatest treasures and strengths,” said the tweet from Smith on Sept. 28.
Some false claims of Indigenous ancestry have recently come to light at universities in Canada.
Alexis said there's always a reason for Indigenous identity fraud.
"At the university level, we have people who are not Indigenous who claim that they are Indigenous to gain benefits, to gain bursaries and so on," said the chief.
"There's always something behind it."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 18, 2022.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
Angela Amato, The Canadian Press