Researcher at centre of Indigenous identity controversy resigns

Dr. Carrie Bourassa has resigned her position at the University of Saskatchewan.

Once a star professor in the field of Indigenous health, Bourassa was suspended indefinitely by the university last year, after a CBC investigation casting doubt on her claims of Métis, Anishinaabe and Tlinglit ancestry.
Along with the suspension from her faculty position, which came with a salary listed at $208,555, she was also removed as scientific director of the Institute of Indigenous Peoples’ Health after the Canadian Institutes of Health Research severed ties with her.

U of S College of Medicine Dean Preston Smith announced Bourassa’s resignation in a statement posted on the university’s website.

Smith wrote that an investigation into the Bourassa matter by B.C.-based lawyer Jean Teillet will now shift its focus to making “recommendations for improvements to relevant University of Saskatchewan policies and processes.”

Dr. Caroline Tait, a Métis medical anthropologist at the U of S who was among the people raising concerns about Bourassa’s stated heritage, said Wednesday she was “relieved” to have the situation resolved.

Tait said the controversy has been physically, mentally and emotionally draining for herself and other Indigenous faculty members.

“We’re ready to move forward,” she said, adding she’s confident Teillet is the right person to help the university learn from the situation, and “go forward in a good way.”

She also singled out Smith as “a man of integrity and honesty,” and said his involvement in the process had done a lot to ease concerns about how the university might proceed.

“It was hard for institutions like the U of S, like the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, to absorb what we were telling them” about Bourassa’s claims, Tait said.

In the end, Tait said the Bourassa affair has opened “a national conversation” on how to assess the “messy question” of Indigenous ancestry. Tait noted “many factors,” some of them deeply traumatic, can inform a person’s claims to heritage. With that in mind, she called for “thoughtfulness, kindness and respect” as institutions — including the U of S —craft policies around the issue.

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