Why so many Canadians pretend to be indigenous

‘Pretendians’ must be among the fastest growing cultural groups in Canada. A Pretendian is someone with little or no indigenous background who pretends to be indigenous. The latest to be uncovered is Vianne Timmons, president of Memorial University of Newfoundland. Last week, Timmons was forced to apologise for misrepresenting her background and is now taking a leave of absence.

Timmons claimed in CVs and elsewhere that she was descended from Mi’kmaq First Nations peoples. A recent CBC News report questioned whether or not Timmons actually had any First Nations ancestry at all. Looking at her family tree, the report found that she is probably only one-1024th to one-2048th indigenous.

Timmons’ story is noteworthy because she is a high-profile academic. She is director on the board of Universities Canada. She was named as one of Canada’s Top 100 most-powerful women in 2008 and was the 2013 winner of the Saskatchewan Humanitarian Award from the Red Cross. In 2017, she was even named an Officer of the Order of Canada for her lifetime contributions to inclusive education, family literacy, indigenous post-secondary education and women’s leadership.

Timmons even accepted an Indspire trophy – ‘the highest honour the indigenous community bestows upon its own people’ – while holding an eagle feather. At that ceremony, she claimed that her father once told her: ‘We’re Mi’kmaq, but I was raised to be ashamed of it so I hid it, all my life.’ In 2021, Timmons spoke about ‘discovering’ her indigenous roots: ‘It’s like trying to find your story that somebody hid from you, not just hid from you, but changed for you.’

Timmons is far from the only high-profile academic to have claimed minority status on dubious grounds. In 2016, author Joseph Boyden, an award-winning author of fiction and non-fiction about First Nations Canadians, faced doubts about his claims to indigenous ancestry. A 2020 CBC investigation raised similar concerns about filmmaker Michelle Latimer, whose film, Inconvenient Indian, won the People’s Choice Award for Documentaries and the award for Best Canadian Film at the Toronto International Film Festival. In 2021, the CBC revealed that Carrie Bourassa, Canada’s leading indigenous health scientist, appeared to be of entirely European ancestry. She had to resign her position at the University of Saskatchewan. Last year, Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond – a former judge, scholar and another recipient of the Order of Canada – was also found to have made inconsistent claims about her heritage.

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Author: HP McLovincraft

Seeker of rabbit holes. Pessimist. Libertine. Contrarian. Your huckleberry. Possibly true tales of sanity-blasting horror also known as abject reality. Prepare yourself. Veteran of a thousand psychic wars. I have seen the fnords. Deplatformed on Tumblr and Twitter.

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