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Queen's University to review how it assesses Indigenous identity claims when hiring staff

Queen's University will review how it evaluates Indigenous identity claims when hiring and appointing staff following allegations that six individuals affiliated with the school, including some faculty members, wrongly asserted Indigenous heritage.

Pledge follows anonymous report claiming 6 individuals falsely claimed Indigenous heritage

In a video statement issued Monday, Queen's University principal Patrick Deane pledged the university will reassess its screening process for evaluating claims of Indigenous identity. (Queen's University/YouTube)

Queen's University will review how it evaluates Indigenous identity claims when hiring and appointing staff following allegations that six individuals affiliated with the school, including some faculty members, wrongly asserted Indigenous heritage.

In a video statement released Monday, principal Patrick Deane acknowledged shortcomings in the Kingston, Ont., university's current hiring practices, particularly in the way it assesses whether someone is considered Indigenous.

"Over the past few weeks, we have heard from many voices, inside our university and from around Canada, on the need to rethink and review the ways in which institutions like ours approach the question of Indigenous identity," Deane said.

"I want to say unequivocally that the university hears and understands these arguments ... [and] we see a different path forward."

Deane said the way Indigenous identity has been factored into hiring and other internal processes at Queen's "may not have been what it should be" and called for a national conversation on the subject.

Report questions identity claims

The move marks a reversal on a controversial issue that has dogged the school for weeks. The university initially denounced an anonymous report that surfaced online in early June accusing six of its instructors, professors and associates of misrepresentation.

subsequent CBC News investigation revealed further questions about the Indigenous claims of Robert Lovelace, an award-winning and influential Algonquin rights activist and professor who was named in the report.

The report raised the prospect that people with questionable heritage claims were benefiting from job positions, grants and funding earmarked for Indigenous people.

In response to Queen's University's initial defensive stance, more than 100  Indigenous academics and chiefs signed an open letter calling on the institution to examine the potential harm.

'Self-identification ... no longer works'

Incoming Queen's University chancellor Murray Sinclair, the former senator and chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, said in a written statement that the university's process for evaluating claims of Indigenous identity is "far from adequate" because it overly relies on self-identification.

"It is clear that self-identification of Indigeneity no longer works," Sinclair said. "We must go beyond an honour system and include voices from Indigenous communities across Turtle Island."

In an accompanying video message, Sinclair said the university needs to look at the way it recruits, hires and selects people for positions that require knowledge of Indigenous cultures, practices and communities.

"The one thing I think it's safe to say about Queen's University is that its consultation with the Indigenous community remains to be desired and its overreliance upon self-identification, its overreliance upon self-declaration, is at the forefront of some of the issues that are currently before it," Sinclair said. 

This self reflection, said Deane, will take time because "reconciliation is a process."

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