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Dozens of Indigenous academics from across the country then signed an open letter calling on Queen’s to look into anonymous that some faculty and others connected to the university have falsely presented themselves as Indigenous.Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Queen’s University will re-evaluate how it assesses Indigenous identity in its hiring practices in the wake of anonymous allegations that say some faculty and others connected to the university have falsely presented themselves as Indigenous.

The school has decided to change course after initially dismissing the allegations, circulated by social media. They accused six people with connections to Queen’s of improperly claiming an Indigenous identity, in some cases based on a distant ancestor or links to a non-status First Nation not recognized by the federal government.

Dozens of Indigenous academics from across the country then signed an open letter calling on Queen’s to look into the allegations. It also urged all universities to develop guidelines for hiring that would assess claims to Indigeneity beyond accepting self-identification as sufficient.

Principal Patrick Deane said the way Indigenous identity has been assessed in hiring and other internal processes “may not have been what it should be.” But he says the professors who were named remain valued members of faculty and the university intends to support them.

Incoming Queen’s chancellor Murray Sinclair, former senator and chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, said in a statement that the university’s process for ensuring that those it hires are connected to Indigenous communities has been “far from adequate.”

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

Queen’s University staff, associates accused of falsely claiming Indigenous identity

Assessing Indigenous identity has become a concern in many Canadian institutions as questions have been raised about some people who have benefited from policies that target Indigenous recipients for grants or hiring. Prominent artists including filmmaker Michelle Latimer and author Joseph Boyden have been scrutinized for identifying themselves as Indigenous. Now similar questions are arising in other sectors, including universities.

Queen’s University will begin an internal process involving Indigenous academics and members of its community to discuss how its hiring practices and its connections to Indigenous communities could be strengthened.

Dr. Deane said he also hopes to convene a national discussion on Indigenous identity. It is not the university’s place to step into a discussion that should belong to Indigenous peoples, he added, but it could play a role as a facilitator.

He said he has consulted extensively with Mr. Sinclair on this question and hopes that the former senator will also play a role in bringing people together for a broader discussion that could inform practices across the country.

The anonymous allegations began circulating online earlier this month. They name four professors and two other people connected to Queen’s and cast doubt on their Indigenous identity. Queen’s has said that some of the information relied upon in the allegations appears to be inaccurate and that it ignores important facts. The Globe and Mail tried to reach all four professors but received no response.

The allegations also raised questions about the Ardoch Algonquin First Nation, a non-status group that has ties to Queen’s and to which some of the people named belong. The Ardoch Algonquins said in a statement that they were dismayed by the allegations.

Dr. Deane said the accusations have divided the university and created what he called a “corrosive internal debate.”

He added that he regrets the painful position that some members of faculty have been placed in but said the professors named in the allegations will remain on staff.

“These are all respected members of faculty who’ve done very good work in the institution, academically, advancing the development of the Indigenous Studies program, and they have made a major contribution both on the teaching and the research side,” Dr. Deane said.

“An allegation in an anonymous report is not the basis for any kind of action that I would want to see taken. I would like to see us embark on a proper and thoughtful discussion about the issues that the report raises. … The one thing we don’t do, which is what the report was trying to provoke, is have a public discussion about individuals and their careers and their employment in the university.”

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