OTTAWA, Canada: Canadian medical researcher Carrie Bourassa has lost her government job and university professorship after suspicious colleagues proved that her claims of having Native Indian ancestry were false.
Bourassa, a public health expert who served as scientific director at the Canadian Institutes of Health Research's Institute of Indigenous Peoples' Health, and who rose to become Canada's leading voice on indigenous health, was suspended five days after the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation published a report on her background.
Despite claiming to be a member of the Mtis nation, a study of Bourassa's family tree revealed her ancestors were migrant farmers from Russia, Poland and Czechoslovakia.
"It makes you feel a bit sick," said Janet Smylie, a Mtis professor at the University of Toronto, who has worked with Bourassa.
"To have an impostor who is speaking on behalf of Mtis and indigenous people to the country about literally what it means to be Mtis, that is very disturbing and upsetting and harmful," she added, as quoted by the New York Post.
When she began to add claims of Anishinaabe and Tlingit heritage, and started dressing in stereotypically indigenous fashion, colleagues began to doubt Bourassa's story.
Things unravelled in 2019, when Bourassa appeared in full tribal regalia, wearing an electric blue shawl with a feather in her partially braided hair, while giving a TEDx Talk at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon.
"My name is Morning Star Bear. I am Bear Clan. I am Anishinaabe Mtis from Treaty Four Territory," she proclaimed at that time.
Her colleagues at the university then began to seriously doubt her claims.
Winona Wheeler, associate professor of Indigenous studies at the college, who is a member of Manitoba's Fisher River Cree Nation, said, "When I saw that TEDx, to be quite honest, I was repulsed by how hard she was working to pass herself off as indigenous," as reported by the New York Post.
Wheeler then began investigating Bourassa's genealogical records and took her findings to the media.
When asked to provide evidence of First Nations heritage, Bourassa changed her story, claiming she was adopted into the Mtis community by an unnamed Mtis friend of her deceased grandfather.
In a statement, she said, "Even though Clifford passed, those bonds are even deeper than death because the family has taken me as if I was their blood family. I serve the Mtis community to the best of my ability."