Peaceful demonstration at USask after Dr. Carrie Bourassa placed on administrative leave

A peaceful demonstration was held at the University of Saskatchewan (USask) Friday, calling for more processes and procedures concerning Indigenous colleagues.

The university placed Dr. Carrie Bourassa on administrative leave earlier this week after she was the subject of a CBC investigation looked into her ancestry.

Read more: USask places Dr. Carrie Bourassa on administrative leave

Bourassa self-identifies as someone with Métis heritage, but the investigation found her genealogy is of Eastern European decent.

Osawa Kiniw Kayseas was a student at the First Nations University of Canada and the University of Regina when Bourassa was a professor.

At the time she said all she knew about Bourassa was she was a Métis professor. She said she was shocked to learn of the allegations.

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“We’re very welcoming people, and when trust is broken it’s hard to repair that,” she said.

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For nearly two decades, Bourassa has been prominent in Indigenous research, even giving “Ted Talks” about her experience as a Métis person.

Kiniw Kayseas has questions about her ethics.

“How did she get that work done?” she asked. “Was she going to our elders claiming to be metis and gaining trust through her (apparent Métis status)?”

In a statement given to CBC Friday and posted on Twitter, Bourassa’s “team” claims the right to self-identify as an Indigenous person.

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“Dr. Carrie Bourassa has not falsely identified as Indigenous nor taken space away from Indigenous peoples, either in the form of student funding, grants or career advancements,” the statement reads.

“She has earned her professional status and merit through hard work, self-funding and sheer determination.”

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Some professors who identify as Indigenous said they disagree with her self-identification.

“You don’t want the pain but you do want the icing that goes on the cake,” said organizer Marilyn Poitras, director of USask’s Indigenous Law Centre.

“Our trauma is what makes us Indigenous, that’s what she was exploiting.”

One professor said she considers what Bourassa is accused of doing as a form of theft.

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“Really what they’re doing is they’re taking up space that wasn’t designed for them and they’re actually contributing to the problem of inequity,” said Raven Sinclair, a professor at the University of Regina.

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She claimed she, and some other colleagues who knew Bourassa for years, were ‘suspicious’ of her Métis status.

“We saw a change over time that she became more Indigenous,” said Sinclair, claiming Bourassa began dressing in more traditionally Indigenous attire over time.

Caroline Tait is a professor at the University of Saskatchewan, and looked into Bourassa’s ancestry claims along with some colleagues.

She filed a complaint with the university about Bourassa. She said she hopes the investigation leads to changes in policy and procedure for USask and others across Canada around ensuring.

“Anything that happens from here on in should be Indigenous-led and it should have strong Indigenous voices that are there,” she said.

Read more: ‘It’s not a costume’: B.C. teacher’s alleged mocking of student’s Indigenous regalia sparks protest

In an email to Global News, the University of Saskatchewan said they support peaceful gatherings like this.

“We need universities to have these brave discussions and be open to having them more often,” wrote provost Dr. Airini.

“Reconciliation is a journey, and sometimes it will be complex and messy.”

The university said it’s important to focus on healing and a way to move forward.

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