University of Sask. appoints independent investigator to examine Carrie Bourassa's Indigenous identity claims

·2 min read
In this 2019 TEDx talk in Saskatoon, Bourassa claimed publicly that she is Métis and Anishnaabe and has suffered the effects of racism.  (YouTube.com - image credit)
In this 2019 TEDx talk in Saskatoon, Bourassa claimed publicly that she is Métis and Anishnaabe and has suffered the effects of racism. (YouTube.com - image credit)

The University of Saskatchewan has announced that it has appointed an independent investigator to examine professor Carrie Bourassa's many claims to Indigenous identity.

Earlier this month, the U of S put Bourassa on leave following a CBC investigation that revealed there was no evidence that Bourassa was Métis, Anishnaabe and Tlingit, as she had publicly claimed.

In an interview, U of S provost Airini, who goes by one name, told CBC the investigation will focus on the possibility that Bourassa misrepresented herself.

"The question is has there been misrepresentation that has undermined the fundamental trust relationship between employer and employee?" she said. "We're going to do everything we can as a university to respect the sovereignty of Indigenous peoples and to not adjudicate ourselves on identity. We're going to stay in that space which is ours of the employer and employee relationship."

On Nov. 1, the university said it had "placed Dr. Bourassa on leave and she is relieved of all her duties as professor in the USask College of Medicine in the Department of Community Health and Epidemiology," adding that it intended to launch an investigation.

On Wednesday, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Canada's federal agency for funding health research, cut ties with Bourassa.

On Thursday, the university said in an email that its investigation is about to get underway.

"The investigation is being led by an independent external investigator, Jean Teillet (Jean Teillet Personal Law Corporation) who specializes in Indigenous rights law," said the emailed statement.

Teillet says she is Red River Métis and the great-grandniece of Loius Riel.

Airini told CBC the investigation is independent of the university.

"It's actually for the investigator to determine what information is needed so that the investigator can undertake deliberations and then generate findings from that," she said.

Submitted by the University of Saskatchewan
Submitted by the University of Saskatchewan

Teillet's online biography describes a long career dealing with a broad range of issues facing Indigenous people.

"Jean has long been engaged in negotiations and litigation with provincial and federal governments concerning Métis and First Nation land rights, harvesting rights and self-government," the biography says.

Teillet appears to have direct experience with some Indigenous groups that are immediately relevant to the Bourassa investigation.

Her biography says she was "a founder of the Métis Nation of Ontario and the National Aboriginal Moot."

It also notes that she represented the Taku River Tlingit First Nation in a court case against British Columbia.

She also served as counsel for the landmark case R. v. Powley, in which the Supreme Court of Canada affirmed constitutional protection for Métis harvesting rights, her biography says.

The U of S says "Indigenous faculty and staff will be included in the investigation process," though it doesn't spell out what that means.

"Once completed, the university will communicate the outcomes, subject to confidentiality," it says.

The University says that in addition to this investigation, it plans to take part in "the larger national conversation around Indigenous identity."

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