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First Nations University of Canada looking to hold national dialogue on Indigenous identity


The president of the First Nations University of Canada (FNUniv) is hoping to organize a Canada-wide dialogue about ongoing issues surrounding Indigenous identity.

President Jacqueline Ottmann said self-declaration of Indigenous identity has been a problem for centuries. Conversations on the topic have been refuelled in the past few weeks after University of Saskatchewan professor Carrie Bourassa was placed on leave when concerns arose about her identity.

Because of its deep understanding of Indigenous culture, FNUniv is looking to help lead other institutions to processes that help rectify any problems.

“One of the things that we’re considering is hosting a national dialogue on Indigenous identity. We are First Nations University of Canada. Our foundations are Indigenous knowledge systems and practices,” Ottmann said. “We have these resources and it’s very important to engage Indigenous peoples in developing a framework or helping inform policies related to this. That’s where, I think, sustainable and respectful practices will emerge from.”

At some universities and professions, applicants can self declare their background.

It’s a process Métis Nation—Saskatchewan (MN—S) also said no longer works.

“Indigenous culture cannot be reduced to a matter of Indigenous choice or self identification alone,” MN—S said in a statement. “It is about shared culture, heritage and history.”

In 2020, MN—S called on all post-secondary institutions in the province to adopt its definition of Métis citizenship to help employment, scholarships and other factors. At this point, it said none have done that.

Ottmann said false claims of Indigenous identity can cause non-Indigenous people to take voice and space away from First Nations, Métis and Inuit people.

“There’s limited resources and limited space and positions in academia or in other sectors for Indigenous peoples. So when a non-Indigenous person takes up that space and begins to speak for Indigenous peoples, then that is a significant issue,” Ottmann said.

Doug Cuthand, an Indigenous affairs columnist and filmmaker, said he’s experienced this issue when looking to collaborate with other Indigenous artists.

“Every so often, some author or someone involved in the craft who claims to be Indigenous will turn out not to be and that’s really hard to get around. You’ve put your faith in them, you’ve reached out to them and then you find out it’s not that case,” Cuthand said. “You’re pretending to be somebody you aren’t and gaining as a result. You’re taking that away from somebody who’s worthy of it.”

Cuthand said false identity claims have to be nipped in the bud.

“If people are profiting or getting ahead as a result of their Indigenous claim, that should be looked into. It should be looked into the same way you would look into an academic background,” he said. “It’s a shame you have to do that, but I think it’s necessary.”

Despite the ongoing challenge, Cuthand said it’s still important for Indigenous and non-Indigenous people to be open to collaborating as long as it’s done with honesty.

“We can’t shut the doors on everybody,” he said. “We have to open our hearts and minds and allow people to work with us, but at the same time, be honest.” Top Stories

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