A Canadian university has appointed an independent investigator to investigate a professor and public health expert who claimed she was aboriginal, 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 under investigation after her claims of Indigenous ancestry were found to be false.
Her colleague, associate professor Winona Wheeler, began exploring Bourassa’s heritage after seeing her TEDx talk in which she claimed to be part of the Métis, Anishinaabe and Tlingit tribes and arrived in stereotypical tribal attire.
Bourassa wore a bright blue scarf with a red patterned neckline, braided cornrows and adorned with feathers and called himself “Morning Star Bear.”
“When I saw that TEDx, to be honest, I was shocked at how hard she worked to impersonate a Native American,” Wheeler, who teaches Indigenous studies at the university and is a documented member of Fisher River Cree Nation in Manitoba, told the New York Post.
Caroline Tait said she, Wheeler and other colleagues became more suspicious when they learned that Bourassa’s sister had stopped claiming Métis’ lineage after further researching her genealogy.
Her sister, Jody Burnett, said Bourassa’s description of our family is inaccurate, not grounded in the facts and, furthermore, irrelevant to whether [she] is Metis.’
Carrie Bourassa’s heritage was questioned after her TEDx talk in which she appeared in a blue scarf with cornrows and adorned with feathers (pictured)
Bourassa’s colleagues noticed ‘how hard she worked to pretend to be Indigenous’
Bourassa (depicted as a child with her grandparents, center) claimed she was part of the Métis, Anishinaabe, and Tlingit tribes
Bourassa was a professor at the University of Saskatchewan (pictured) as well as a government health expert before his release
Tait, a Métis professor and medical anthropologist at the University of Saskatchewan who has worked with Bourassa for more than 10 years, said she began to question her colleague’s ancestral claims when Bourassa began noticing ties to the Anishinaabe and Tlingit communities and dressed in more stereotypical Indigenous styles.
Wheeler and Janet Smylie, a Métis professor of family medicine at the University of Toronto who also worked with Bourassa, joined Tait in her suspicions.
Tait confronted Bourassa with what she initially suspected were rumours. Bourassa replied in an email, “I’ve done my genealogy twice and got local Métis memberships and I’ve been accepted into the community.” She never shared her genealogies.
The Canadian Institute of Health Research’s system only asks members of the Indigenous Canada Research Chairs (CRCs) to identify themselves, a professor Rob Ines claimed.
‘How many CRCs in the country are indigenous? Nobody knows. How do universities know if their CRCs are even indigenous? They don’t know – they just know that they identified themselves. Even though universities say identity is a private matter [but] they also brag publicly about how many Indigenous CRCs they have,” he wrote in a Facebook post.
The professors’ research led to the discovery that their fellow professor was actually from Russia, Poland and Czechoslovakia, and that her ancestors were immigrant farmers.
When she was pressed to prove her parentage, Bourassa reportedly changed her story. She then claimed that she had been “adopted” into the Métis tribe by a friend and her late grandfather Clifford Laroque, the New York Post reported.
“Even though Clifford passed away, those ties are even deeper than death because the family took me as if I were 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 north BC to Saskatchewan and they had a family.”
Her sister Jody Burnett (pictured) revealed that Bourassa’s ‘description of our family is incorrect’ and that the family was white
Caroline Tait (left) and Winona Wheeler began exploring Bourassa’s heritage in 2019 (Photo: Bourassa (center) and Health Minister for the Métis Nation Saskatchewan (right))
She explained that she was first told of her alleged descent from Métis in 2002 when her sister invited her to meet Larocque when he “confirmed that our family [Métis] ancestry in BC’ and insisted that she ‘should be sure to represent myself as such’.
Her sister, Jody Burnett, said Bourassa’s description of our family is inaccurate, not grounded in the facts and, furthermore, irrelevant to whether [she] is Metis.
“It makes you a little nauseous,” Smylie told the New York Post. She also helped Bourassa write a book on Indigenous parenting.
“To have an impostor speaking on behalf of Métis and the indigenous people in the country about literally what it means to be Métis…that is very disturbing, disturbing and harmful.”
Bourassa, who was placed on administrative leave on Nov. 1, claimed at the time that she was not required to provide evidence, and accused investigations into her heritage as contrary to her tribe’s customs.
“Obviously I have to abide by 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 by which some tribes in the US recognize members through DNA percentages.
“Blood quantums aren’t our way, but I’ve worked with a Métis genealogist to research my lineage.”
She had also added that her own investigation began two years ago and was still ongoing.
Bourassa has yet to explain why she has claimed for most 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 north BC to Saskatchewan and they had a family.”