Saskatchewan

Health scientist Carrie Bourassa on immediate leave after scrutiny of her claim she's Indigenous

Carrie Bourassa has been placed on immediate leave by both the University of Saskatchewan and the Indigenous health arm of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, where she is scientific director, after a weekend of online outrage stemming from CBC's investigation into her claims to Indigeneity.

University of Saskatchewan, CIHR place Bourassa on leave over lack of evidence

At the 2019 TEDx talk in Saskatoon, Carrie Bourassa claimed publicly that she is Métis and Anishnaabe and has suffered the effects of racism. (YouTube)

Carrie Bourassa, a University of Saskatchewan professor and the scientific director of the Indigenous health arm of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), is on leave from both institutions following a weekend of online outrage stemming from CBC's investigation into her claims to Indigeneity.

Bourassa, who has headed up an Indigenous research lab at the U of S and the CIHR's Institute of Indigenous Peoples' Health, has publicly claimed to be Métis, Anishnaabe and Tlingit.

CBC found there was no evidence she was Indigenous, despite her claims many times over the past 20 years. When asked, Bourassa hasn't offered any genealogical evidence to back up her claims, but in a statement she said two years ago she hired a genealogist to help her investigate her ancestry, and that work continues.

Just last week, after publication of the CBC story, the CIHR issued a statement supporting Bourassa, saying it "values the work of the Institute of Indigenous Peoples' Health under Dr. Carrie Bourassa's leadership." And the U of S also backed her, stating, "The quality of Professor Bourassa's scholarly work speaks for itself and has greatly benefited the health of communities across Canada." 

However, on Monday, both institutions announced Bourassa was on immediate leave. 

"Today I spoke with Dr. Carrie Bourassa, scientific director of the CIHR Institute of Indigenous Peoples' Health (CIHR-IIPH), and we agreed that she will step away from all of her duties as scientific director of the Institute," CIHR president Michael Strong wrote. "As such, Dr. Bourassa will be on an indefinite leave without pay effective immediately.".

After the initial statements of support from the CIHR and the U of S, many people took to social media to condemn the move, arguing the organizations shouldn't stand by someone who falsified their own ancestry. 

"I acknowledge the pain experienced by Indigenous Peoples as a result of this matter, and would like to underscore CIHR's absolute commitment to reconciliation and continuing to accelerate the self-determination of Indigenous Peoples in health research," Strong's statement said.

LISTEN| University of Saskatchewan academic faces questions about her claims to Indigenous identity:

A University of Saskatchewan academic is on leave without pay after colleagues questioned her claims to Indigenous identity. Matt Galloway discusses the story and others like it with Raven Sinclair, a professor of social work at the University of Regina who is Cree, Assiniboine, Saulteaux and Métis from the George Gordon First Nation; and Veldon Coburn, an assistant professor at the Institute of Indigenous Research and Studies at the University of Ottawa. He is Anishinaabe and a member of the Algonquins of Pikwàkanagàn First Nation.

University launches investigation

U of S provost Airini announced Bourassa has been placed on leave and an investigation into her claims to Indigeneity has been launched.

"USask has placed Dr. Bourassa on leave and she is relieved of all her duties as professor in the USask College of Medicine in the Department of Community Health and Epidemiology," the statement said. "Dr. Bourassa will not return to any faculty duties during this investigation."

The university said it made the move after new information emerged. 

Bourassa, centre, with University of Saskatchewan president Peter Stoicheff and Karen Chad, at the time the university's vice-president, research. Bourassa, a health scientist, has claimed to be Métis, Anishnaabe and Tlingit. But investigations have found no evidence. (usask.ca)

"The University of Saskatchewan has carefully reviewed the information in interviews and responses from Dr. Carrie Bourassa to recent articles challenging her Indigenous identity," the statement said. "The university has serious concerns with the additional information revealed in Dr. Bourassa's responses to the media and with the harm that this information may be causing Indigenous individuals and communities."

Bourassa has declined to comment, saying Monday, "My PR team will be in touch about any future conversations at that time."

The CIHR didn't announce any immediate plans to fill Bourassa's position.

"I will communicate a plan for the ongoing leadership of the Institute in the coming days," Strong wrote in his statement.

The university says it will expedite its investigative process.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Geoff Leo

Senior Investigative Journalist

Geoff Leo is a Michener Award nominated investigative journalist and a Canadian Screen Award winning documentary producer and director. He has been covering Saskatchewan stories since 2001.

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