- She’s a Sitting Bull.
- A Canadian medical researcher who rose to grow the country’s leading expert on indigenous health has been dismissed from her government job.
Also her university professorship after colleagues became suspicious of her increasingly fanciful claims of Native American ancestry and discovered she was a fraud.
Carrie Bourassa, a public health expert who was the scientific director of the Institute of Indigenous Peoples’ Health at the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, was suspended on Nov. 1. Five days later the state-owned Canadian Broadcasting Corporation published a lengthy expose on her background.
A laborious trace of Bourassa’s family tree revealed that her supposedly parents ancestors were immigrant farmers from Russia, Poland, and Czechoslovakia, not the Métis nation, as she had long claimed.
“It forms you feel a bit sick,” said Janet Smylie, a Métis professor at the University of Toronto who co-wrote a book about indigenous parenting with Bourassa.
“Having an impostor speaking to the country on behalf of Métis and indigenous people about literally what it means to be Métis that’s very disturbing, upsetting, and harmful.”
Colleagues began to doubt Bourassa’s story as she claimed Anishinaabe and Tlingit ancestry and started to dress in stereotypically indigenous fashion.
It all began in 2019 when she appeared in full tribal regalia draped in an electric blue shawl, with a feather in her partially braided hair to give a TEDx Talk at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon. A registered member of Manitoba’s Fisher River Cree Nation, Wheeler began researching Bourassa’s ancestors and shared her findings with the media.
The case is compared to that of Rachel Dolezal, a white woman who claimed to be black as president of a local NAACP branch and to that of Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who claimed Native American ancestry based on family lore and her “high cheekbones.”