An investigation was launched into accusations that a top indigenous health expert in Canada faked a Native American heritage. Colleagues say the indigenous health guru is of European descent.
Carrie Bourassa has made quite a name for herself as a Native American activist. Bourassa is a professor of indigenous health at the University of Saskatchewan, scientific director at the Institute of Indigenous Peoples’ Health and Institute of Aboriginal Peoples’ Health, and owns Infinity Consulting: “Indigenous strategic planning; Indigenous health consulting and research, education and development.”
Bourassa — who also goes by the name of “Morning Star Bear” — is under substantial scrutiny after colleagues became suspicious of her claims that she was a Native American.
During a TEDx Talk at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon in 2019, Bourassa appeared in a blue shawl with her hair braided in cornrows and accessorized with a feather.
“My name is Morning Star Bear,” Bourassa tearfully told the audience, then proceeded to claim she was Native American, “I’m Bear Clan. I’m Anishinaabe Metis from Treaty Four Territory.”
However, not everyone was sold on Bourassa’s origin story, especially Winona Wheeler, associate professor of Indigenous studies at the University of Saskatchewan.
“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 said.
Wheeler — who is a documented member of Manitoba’s Fisher River Cree Nation — researched the genealogical records of Bourassa’s family and found that her ancestors hailed from Russia, Poland, and Czechoslovakia.
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation published an expose on Bourassa’s heritage last month. Five days after the article was published, Bourassa was suspended from her two government jobs, according to the Independent. She was suspended as the scientific director of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research’s Institute of Indigenous Peoples’ Health and was placed on leave as a professor in the University of Saskatchewan College of Medicine in the Department of Community Health and Epidemiology.
“Today I spoke with Dr. Carrie Bourassa … and we agreed that she will step away from all of her duties as Scientific Director of the Institute. As such, Dr Bourassa will be on an indefinite leave without pay effective immediately,” said the institute’s president, Michael Strong.
The university hired Jean Teillet, a Metis lawyer, to investigate the professor’s indigenous claims.
When asked to provide proof of her Native American heritage, Bourassa allegedly changed her story. She claimed that she was “adopted” into the Metis tribe by a friend of her deceased grandfather Clifford Laroque.
“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 Metis community to the best of my ability.”
Janet Smylie — a Metis professor at the University of Toronto who worked with Bourassa on a book about indigenous parenting — ripped her colleague.
“It makes you feel a bit sick,” Smylie said. “To have an impostor who is speaking on behalf of Metis and indigenous people to the country about literally what it means to be Metis … that’s very disturbing and upsetting and harmful.”
Indigenous or pretender? Some colleagues say leading health scientist is faking Indigenous ancestry