Carrie Bourassa, the scientific director of the Indigenous health arm of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), is on indefinite leave from the organization after a weekend of online outrage stemming from CBC’s investigation into her claims to Indigeneity.
Bourassa, a University of Saskatchewan professor who also heads up the CIHR’s Institute of Indigenous Peoples’ Health, has claimed to be Métis, Anishnaabe and Tlingit.
CBC found there was no evidence she was Indigenous, despite her claims many times over the past 20 years. When asked, Bourassa hasn’t offered any genealogical evidence to back up her claims, but she says two years ago she hired a genealogist to help her investigate her ancestry, and that work continues.
Just last week, after publication of the CBC story, the CIHR issued a statement supporting Bourassa, saying it “values the work of the Institute of Indigenous Peoples’ Health under Dr. Carrie Bourassa’s leadership.”
However, CIHR president Michael Strong issued the following statement by email Monday afternoon.
“Today I spoke with Dr. Carrie Bourassa, scientific director of the CIHR Institute of Indigenous Peoples’ Health (CIHR-IIPH), and we agreed that she will step away from all of her duties as scientific director of the Institute. As such, Dr. Bourassa will be on an indefinite leave without pay effective immediately,” the statement says.
After the CIHR’s initial statement of support, many people took to social media to condemn the move, arguing the organization shouldn’t stand by someone who falsified their own ancestry.
“I acknowledge the pain experienced by Indigenous Peoples as a result of this matter, and would like to underscore CIHR’s absolute commitment to reconciliation and continuing to accelerate the self-determination of Indigenous Peoples in health research,” Strong’s statement said.
CBC has reached out to Bourassa for comment but hasn’t yet heard back. On the weekend, she told CBC she would not be doing any interviews and would only be communicating through a public relations official.
The CIHR didn’t announce any immediate plans to fill Bourassa’s position.
“I will communicate a plan for the ongoing leadership of the Institute in the coming days,” Strong wrote in his statement.