Memorial University silent over Timmons as chief, others wait for next step
The chief of the Miawpukek First Nation says Memorial University has an obligation to consult Indigenous people as it contends with public scrutiny of its president Vianne Timmons and her statements on Indigenous heritage and past membership in an unrecognized band.
But for now, Chief Mi'sel Joe says he is leaving "Memorial to do what it needs to do."
The Board of Regents — Memorial University's governing body — has not released a statement since it held its regularly scheduled meeting on Thursday. MUN's Office of Indigenous Affairs has asked the university community to give them space to gather and discuss.
There was no update from the university as of 4:30 p.m. NT Friday.
Timmons, who has been president and vice-chancellor since 2020, maintains there is a difference between claiming Indigenous identity and Indigenous heritage. Timmons said she feels she's always been clear: she has ancestry but has never claimed Mi'kmaq identity.
However, for years her publicly available resumé listed her as a member of an unrecognized band in Nova Scotia. Between 2011 and 2018, multiple professional biographies noted her membership in Bras d'Or Mi'kmaq First Nation, including one used for the prime minister's independent advisory board for Senate appointments.
Timmons acknowledged in an interview with CBC News last Tuesday that she was a member of Bras d'Or Mi'kmaq First Nation — which is unrecognized by the Union of Nova Scotia Mi'kmaq and the federal government — for a short period of time around 2009.
Joe recommends the university set up an Indigenous roundtable with leaders and students in a format similar to the premier's weekly meeting with Indigenous leaders.
"After all we have gone through in terms of Memorial University Indigenizing the university — or trying to — that's all going to be a part of that, and [as] part of this, we have Truth and Reconciliation that's a really important part as well," he said.
"Lots of things have evolved. That's why I suggest MUN do its work, and we decide what to do as Aboriginal people."
Asking 'harder questions'
Timmons publicly stated on at least two separate occasions that her ancestor was from Conne River. She later clarified in an interview with CBC News on Feb. 28 that she misspoke. She said her relative had spent time there with her brothers but was from Nova Scotia.
"I have no understanding of her connection to Conne River," said Joe. "I only heard of Vianne Timmons when she showed up in Newfoundland."
He said the issue has prompted overall concerns for him.
"For me, as a questioning whether or not we have to take things at face value any longer, we need to be more vocal in asking the questions that nobody else is asking," he said.
"We're too damn trusting, excuse the language. We're too damn trusting and too accepting. We need to be asking harder questions."
'Some kind of redress'
Meanwhile, First Nations University of Canada president Jackie Ottmann says she is disappointed and saddened by these recent revelations.
Ottmann takes issue with Timmons accepting a 2019 Indspire award for education. The national charity offers what is designed to be the most prestigious award an Indigenous person can receive from an Indigenous community.
"There does need to be some kind of redress," Ottmann said in an interview Friday.
Timmons said she was honoured with the award because of her work helping to keep First Nations University open amid funding cuts and that she initially turned it down.
Timmons said she told Indspire that she did not identify as Mi'kmaq. She says she only accepted the award after speaking with an elder in Regina who advised in accepting the award, she would acknowledge her ancestors.
She said Indspire said they knew she didn't identify as Mi'kmaq, and they were bestowing the award for her work. Indspire has not responded to interview requests.
"I advocated publicly for the funding to be reinstated. I worked with the students. It wasn't just me. I worked very closely with the students at First Nations University, and we worked very hard, got the funding reinstated," Timmons told CBC News.
"So that was really the advocacy I had done around post-secondary, inclusion and Indigenization, which was prior to Truth and Reconciliation."
While Timmons was an ally, Ottmann said, there was a large number of Indigenous people leading the effort to save the university.
"It really does a disservice to the community, and it really works toward further marginalizing and silencing and erasing indigenous peoples contributions to our communities or to our cities, to our towns, to our provinces, to our country," said Ottmann.
Ottmann said Timmons needs to apologize or find another avenue to give credit to the Indigenous student association, faculty, staff, elders and leaders did to help save the university.
CBC News has asked for interviews with Timmons, the Board of Regents and MUN's Office of Indigenous Affairs.