Indigenous professionals say UBC is mishandling Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond ancestry fallout


Miranda Jimmy says there was an air of quiet alarm at UBC’s Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre (IRSHDC) throughout a workshop she was attending a few weeks in the past.

The matter on the morning of Oct. 13 was the way to accumulate oral testimony in a truthful means. But Jimmy stated that in actuality, everybody gave the impression to be avoiding a painful reality staring all of them within the face.

“No one would make eye contact with one another. Everyone was simply silent,” stated the member of Saskatchewan’s Thunderchild First Nation. “Because everybody had seen the article however nobody was speaking about it.”

Less than 24 hours earlier, CBC had printed an investigation elevating questions concerning the Indigenous ancestry claims of the IRSHDC’s founding director Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond. To date, Turpel-Lafond has nonetheless failed to offer any proof that she is a Treaty Indian of Cree ancestry, as she has claimed for many years.

Several Indigenous critics say UBC has fumbled its response to the story.

Two weeks in the past, Miranda Jimmy was attending a workshop on the Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre at UBC because the establishment was coping with fallout from CBC’s investigation. (Miranda Jimmy)

While Turpel-Lafond stays employed at UBC’s Peter A. Allard School of Law , she retired from the position of IRSHDC director in June. Nonetheless, Jimmy stated it was apparent that the information was hitting the IRSHDC onerous.

“The employees had been buzzing round like craziness, getting pulled out of conferences to go help media responses,” Jimmy stated.

Jimmy stated she tried to debate the story within the workshop, arguing that in her view, it is “ridiculous” to be speaking about truth-telling in gentle of the findings of CBC’s investigation.

She stated she was met with silence.

The following Monday morning Ngai Pindell, dean of the regulation faculty, despatched an electronic mail to college students warning that speaking concerning the story may trigger hurt.

“While it is pure that you just would possibly want to talk about the story with colleagues, classmates and pals, please be aware of the potential that what you say could exacerbate a tough state of affairs for somebody you’re partaking with.” 

“So that is a pleasant solution to say ‘Keep your mouth shut,'” concluded Jimmy. “Stick to what the [university’s] public statements are.” 

Indigenous identification ‘not a criterion’

The day the story printed, Oct. 12, UBC issued a press release to The Globe and Mail, praising Turpel-Lafond for her profession achievements, her accomplishments because the IRSHDC’s director and her deep connection to Indigenous communities.

The college stated it will not touch upon whether or not Turpel-Lafond was really Cree as a result of “Indigenous identification was not a criterion for the place [of IRSHDC director].”

Jean Teillet, a Métis lawyer and knowledgeable in Indigenous rights regulation, stated she doubts that assertion, calling it “not believable.”

“I feel that the possibilities of them hiring a non-Indigenous individual in that position are zero,” stated Teillet. “In this point in time? Zero.”

She stated she will’t think about that UBC would have appointed a non-Indigenous individual to go up the newly created IRSHDC, which is centered on the historical past and penalties of Indian Residential Schools. She additionally identified that the college has publicly dedicated to hiring extra Indigenous individuals.

Jean Teillet, a Métis lawyer from B.C., was retained by the University of Saskatchewan to research Carrie Bourassa’s claims to Indigenous ancestry. (Pape Salter Teillet LLP)

Teillet stated she suspects UBC is taking part in phrase video games.

“It’s type of a duck and canopy technique which I’d counsel is not the most effective,” she stated. “I feel whether or not they acknowledged it as a standards or not, it was. It was a tacit standards and maybe an important standards.” 

Turpel-Lafond’s claims to Indigenous ancestry had been vital sufficient that they featured prominently within the April 26, 2018, information launch asserting her appointment as director and tenured professor at UBC.

The second paragraph begins “Turpel-Lafond, or Aki-kwe, is Cree and Scottish with kinship ties in First Nations in each Saskatchewan and Manitoba.”

Turpel-Lafond recruited to the position

CBC requested the college to offer a replica of the commercial for Turpel-Lafond’s place and the checklist of standards established for the position.

UBC responded that there was no commercial as a result of it particularly focused Turpel-Lafond for rent.

“In some instances, when a place is distinctive, universities will take a focused method to hiring, by which case commercials should not used. This was the case for the place of Director of the IRSHDC,” the assertion stated.

UBC added that whereas Indigenous ancestry was not a situation of the position, the college did consider Turpel-Lafond’s “deep connections with Indigenous peoples throughout Canada.”

“Candidates with related Indigenous expertise and the flexibility to work carefully with Indigenous teams had been related components,” UBC stated.

UBC says that in 2018, Indigenous ancestry was ‘not a criterion’ for hiring a director of the newly fashioned Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre. (

Jean Teillet stated UBC’s method is each telling and typical of many universities throughout Canada in the case of the hiring of Indigenous teachers.

“Often there is no commercial for the job. It’s not set on the market as ‘We’re searching for an Indigenous professor,'” she stated.

Instead, she stated, recruiting is executed by phrase of mouth. 

“When the college turns round and says ‘Well it wasn’t one of many job standards,’ the fact is there was no job standards as a result of there wasn’t something set out in public,” stated Teillet. “I do not assume that is terribly trustworthy.”

Echoes of an earlier scandal

One week after the story broke, a bunch calling itself the Indigenous Women’s Collective issued a public assertion calling for public officers to offer extra considerate and measured responses to the report.

“We are deeply troubled that First Nations professionals, politicians and college leaders have been too swift to publicly defend a person claming to carry Treaty Indian standing and Indigeneity, when in actual fact there is no verifiable proof to help that declare,” the assertion stated.

Crystal Fafard, an Indigenous lawyer from the Yellow Quill First Nation in Saskatchewan and spokesperson for the group, stated the ladies, who come from many walks of life, had been upset by UBC’s response. 

“They ought to pause, give it some thought, and do some evaluation earlier than they communicate,” stated Fafard. 

Crystal Fafard is a lawyer from the Yellow Quill First Nation. She is additionally a spokesperson for the Indigenous Women’s Collective, an advocacy group fashioned within the wake of CBC’s story about Turpel-Lafond. (

She stated UBC ought to have realized that lesson by watching how the University of Saskatchewan handled an analogous state of affairs final yr.

In October 2021, a CBC investigation solid doubt on the Indigenous ancestry claims of Carrie Bourassa, a excessive profile professor from the U of S. The college’s provost and vice-president educational issued a press release praising Bourassa’s scholarly work saying it “has tremendously benefited the well being of communities throughout Canada.”

“Professor Bourassa was not employed by the college due to her Indigenous standing, and Indigenous ancestry was not a requirement of the position,” stated the U of S. 

Fafard stated the similarity in responses between the U of S and UBC is gorgeous. 

“You would have thought, on condition that state of affairs, they might have realized one thing, like a finest follow perhaps, to take care of these conditions,” stated Fafard.

The U of S’s assertion of help for Bourassa was met with outrage by Indigenous individuals from throughout the nation. Within days, the University reversed its place and launched an investigation into Bourassa’s claims. 

Fafard says it is time for UBC to do the identical factor. She stated the establishment cannot conceal behind its declare that Turpel-Lafond’s position didn’t require Indigenous ancestry. 

“I feel that is a cop out,” stated Fafard. “You should get entangled since you employed her and he or she was holding an important place for Indigenous individuals.”

Teillet was employed by the University of Saskatchewan to conduct the Carrie Bourassa investigation. Her last report has not but been launched, however she says from the entire analysis she has executed, she’s concluded that universities are finest served by going through the problems head-on. 

“They can both get out in entrance of this or they’ll at all times be behind the 8-ball on it,” she stated.

“You cannot ignore it. This cannot be swept below the rug. It’s been swept below the rug for a very long time and it will probably’t proceed.”


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