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Solving Self-Identification Issues in Post-Secondary Education

Tansi Nîtôtemtik,

This week, we have been exploring Indigenous identity. Today we will look at how post-secondary institutions are responding to internal claims of false-Indigeneity. Since the Truth and Reconciliation Commission released its Calls to Action in 2015, industries across the country have created targeted hiring campaigns to employ more Indigenous people.

In Canadian universities, commitments have been made to hire more Indigenous faculty members. Hiring Indigenous staff helps to fulfill Calls to Action, provide expertise when educating about the legacy of residential schools, and decrease employment gaps between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians.

Image: https://www.concordia.ca/cuevents/main/2021/02/18/equity-diversity-and-inclusion-edi-in-work-integrated-learning.html

This push to hire Indigenous faculty has led to claims of false Indigeneity. In several institutions across Canada, faculty members hired partially on the basis of their Indigenous heritage have been found to not have the heritage they have claimed.

In 2021, a widely publicized case found that a University of Saskatchewan professor who claimed to be Métis, Anishinaabe, and Tlingit, did not have any Indigenous ancestry. [1] In 2022, an anonymous report claimed that six faculty members at Queen’s University who self-declared as Indigenous had falsified their identity. [2]

At the root of this issue lies insufficient processes in evaluating whether an applicant who self-identifies as Indigenous actually is Indigenous. For most institutions, applicants could self-identify as Indigenous, and were not subject to verification of their claims. This created unsafe spaces that were not respectful of the values meant to be promoted.

In response to the allegations at Queen’s University, the Honourable Murray Sinclair, Chancellor at Queen’s University and the former Chair of the Truth and Reconciliation, believes that “it is not the role of a colonial institution like Queen’s to determine who is or is not Indigenous” and that “it must be an Indigenous-led process. [3] Queen’s University has since established an “Indigenous Oversight Council” to establish a “more comprehensive approach” to confirming Indigenous identity of staff. [4] At the University of Saskatchewan, a similar task force has been established and is composed of Indigenous members.

As we have discussed on the blog throughout the week, there is no one way to determine Indigenous identity. Government policies around identification cards are not sufficient to determine identity. The residential school system and the sixties scoop forcibly removed First Nations, Métis, and Inuit peoples from their identities, and survivors and descendants are continuously reconnecting with their heritage. But it is not appropriate for the government or for post-secondary institutions to determine what the criteria are for Indigenous identity. Establishing task forces and advisory committees is the appropriate way to ensure hiring objectives are met, and reconciliation is advanced.

Another reason why falsely identifying as Indigenous in a post-secondary institution is harmful is that many of these positions are supposed to advance goals of Indigenization of the institutions. Targeted hiring campaigns address underrepresentation and bring diverse perspectives. [5] Such perspectives are necessary in education and for advancing goals of reconciliation.

Ensuring that the Indigenization of institutions is done appropriately is another key area in which Indigenous perspectives are necessary. Across the country, post-secondary institutions have begun naming Indigenous Chancellors. Chancellors advocate for the vision of the University and play an essential role in advancing the institution’s interests. [6] The Chancellor is also an advisor to the President. [7] Those who fill the Chancellor role are in a position to ensure University’s goals are pursued in a culturally appropriate way.

In addition to Queen’s University, the University of Ottawa, [8] the University of Victoria, [9] and Vancouver Island University, [10] are some of the institutions that have named Indigenous Chancellors.

Acknowledging the need for Indigenous knowledge in post-secondary institutions is a step toward reconciliation. Creating positions for Indigenous people is another step toward reconciliation. Ensuring that the verification process is Indigenous-led is yet another step toward reconciliation. The admissions and apologies by institutions, and the steps taken to ensure the issue is not repeated in the future are necessary, and show commitment to reconciliation.

Until next time,

Team ReconciliAction YEG

[1] CBC, “Carrie Bourassa, who claimed to be Indigenous without evidence, has resigned from U of Sask”, CBC (1 June 2022), online: </www.cbc.ca/news/canada/saskatchewan/carrie-bourassa-resigns-1.6473964>.

[2] CBC, “Queen’s University should apologize, create process to validate Indigenous identity: report”, CBC (8 July 2022), online: <www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/queen-s-university-staff-indigenous-identity-report-recommendations-1.6514055>.

[3] Queen’s Gazette, “Queen’s releases report following dialogues on Indigeneity”, Queen’s University (8 July 2022), online: </www.queensu.ca/gazette/stories/queen-s-releases-report-following-dialogues-indigeneity>.

[4] Supra note 2.

[5] The New York Times, “Doubts Over Indigenous Identity in Academia Spark “Pretendian” Claims”, The New York Times (15 October 2022), online: <www.nytimes.com/2022/10/15/world/canada/canada-indigenous-identity-pretendians.html>.

[6] Office of the Chancellor, “About the Position”, University of Toronto (last visited 16 November 2022), online: <chancellor.utoronto.ca/about-the-position>.

[7] The University of Winnipeg, “The Role of the Chancellor”, The University of Winnipeg (last visited 16 November 2022), online: <www.uwinnipeg.ca/about/administration/chancellor.html>.

[8] CanadianSME, “Claudette Commanda becomes 1st Indigenous Chancellor of the University of Ottawa”, CanadianSME (23 June 2022), online: <canadiansme.ca/claudette-commanda-becomes-1st-indigenous-chancellor-of-the-university-of-ottawa/>.

[9] University of Victoria, “Renowned Indigenous jurist and alumna Buller named UVic chancellor”, University of Victoria (5 November 2021), online: </www.uvic.ca/news/topics/2021+new-chancellor+media-release>.

[10] Vancouver Island University, “Chancellor”, (last visited 16 November 2022), online: <gov.viu.ca/chancellor>.

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