A Métis professor at the University of Saskatchewan, who raised concerns about prominent academic Carrie Bourassa’s claims of native descent, says the school’s recent decision to put Bourassa on leave is a step in the right direction.
Bourassa, a U of S professor and the scientific director of the Indigenous Health Arm of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), has been put on leave from both institutions after the CBC’s investigation into her allegations of indigenous identity sparked online outrage. . The U of S also announced Monday that they had launched an investigation into Bourassa’s allegations.
Bourassa, who headed a native research laboratory at the U of S and the CIHR’s Institute of Indigenous People’s Health, had publicly claimed to be Métis, Anishnaabe and Tlingit. The CBC found that there was no evidence that she was a native, despite her claims that she was many times over the past 20 years.
On question, Bourassa has not offered any genealogical evidence to support her claims, but in a statement she said she hired a genealogist two years ago to help her investigate her ancestry and that work continues.
Caroline Tait, a professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the U of S, had been researching Bourassa’s ancestry requirements for some time with some colleagues. She filed a complaint with the university about the problem.
“One of the most difficult challenges for all of us was that Carrie Bourassa supervised students and gave lectures, went to conferences and interacted with our seniors,” said Tait, who is Métis.
“When the news came out, [we knew] that there would be people who were very hurt, and especially the students. The hardest part of this is the people who looked up to her. “
Academic integrity played a role in the complaint
Tait said Bourassa being put on leave is “bittersweet” because she and her colleagues had not “sat down to confirm that Carrie Bourassa was not a native.”
She said they wanted to know if she was dishonest and that they sat down as researchers “to find the truth.”
Tait said that in 2018, Bourassa lived in his house. She said that was when she suggested to Bourassa that she should show all her family history in order to calm all the rumors.
“We brought this up not only because indigenous peoples argued that someone who claims to be indigenous is not, but also because of academic integrity.”
Tait said permanent professors are responsible for telling the truth and being held to the highest standards.
She said it was encouraging to see that even though they were sad, “the Métis women mobilized… locally here in Saskatoon.”
Tait said she was initially surprised by the university and the CIHR’s support for Bourassa, but that their decisions to put her on leave were progress in the right direction.
“I think the university may have taken a small mistake. I think they have corrected the mistake.”
She said she hopes the committee of inquiry will be composed of all indigenous peoples, including indigenous lawyers and elders.
Going forward, Tait said she wants to see a process of building trust among students, faculty and staff at the university.
Bourassa robbed himself of resources, the professor says
Raven Sinclair, professor of social work at the University of Regina, told CBC’s The current that when the investigation report came out, “it was actually quite shocking” to see that the suspicions were “in fact”.
“It has to do with material gain and advantage of position, power, authority and role,” she said. “A lot of things come down to money. There have to be rewards that start to run up, and they in themselves become incentives to continue with this charade.”
Sinclair said Bourassa robbed culture and resources from people who were on a similar career path and that such events affect natives’ participation in the economy.
“We take these societal relationships at face value, so when these suspicions come up, it’s a bit contrary to our values of relationality to challenge people. We don’t assume that anyone’s story or stories they share about their experiences are fabricated.”
Sinclair said she can trace her genealogy back to 10 generations on her mother’s side and five on her father’s.
“Just saying you’re a native is not acceptable,” she said.