A celebrated researcher and academic whose claims to Indigenous identity were called into question has resigned from the University of Saskatchewan.
Carrie Bourassa, a professor of community health and epidemiology in the college of medicine, stepped down from her position Wednesday, the university announced.
Dr. Bourassa had once been considered one of the highest-profile faculty at the University of Saskatchewan. She shared in research grants worth millions of dollars, had authored books and articles on Indigenous health and was recognized as a leader in her field. She publicly claimed Métis, Anishinaabe and Tlingit ancestry.
In addition to her work at the university, she held a prestigious job as scientific director of the Institute of Indigenous Peoples’ Health, which is part of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR).
An investigation by the CBC last fall raised serious questions about her claims to Indigenous identity.
Dr. Bourassa was subsequently suspended indefinitely without pay by the CIHR and then suspended with pay by the University of Saskatchewan, but prevented from conducting scholarly research. At the time, the university said it had serious concerns about some of the information Dr. Bourassa had provided in interviews.
The university announced an independent investigation into those claims, which was being led by Métis lawyer Jean Teillet.
In a statement Wednesday, Dr. Preston Smith, dean of medicine at the University of Saskatchewan, said the investigation will now shift its focus to examine how to improve relevant policies and processes at the university. Ms. Teillet’s recommendations will be made public in the near future, the dean said.
Dr. Bourassa’s case was one among many that spurred a debate in universities about how Indigenous identity should be recognized. Murray Sinclair, the former chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and chancellor at Queen’s University, where other academics were also publicly questioned about their identity, said last year that the system of self-identification that most Canadian universities have relied upon was no longer adequate.
University of Saskatchewan provost Airini, who uses only one name, similarly said that self-identification, which operates on a kind of honour system, would no longer suffice when she announced the investigation into the claims made by Dr. Bourassa.
Academics at a number of universities have been discussing how to devise new policies that would ensure jobs and scholarships intended for Indigenous students and faculty are subject to some form of verification more stringent than self-identification.
A committee at the University of Saskatchewan is expected to deliver a new policy proposal on the subject to the university’s board of governors in the coming weeks.
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