Friday, November 05, 2021

Indigenous Identity Fraud: Too much weights reprise

The recent exposure of Dr. Carrie Bourassa as having Russian-Czech-Polish ancestry and not the Metis-Tlingit-Anishinaabe genealogy she has persistently claimed for two decades has thrown Indigenous academia into turmoil.

This latest case of identity fraud in academia comes close to home for me. The University of Saskatchewan has been my professional residence since 2017. Bourassa was much feted by the University, showered with awards and funding, and assumed a level of seniority, power and influence over significant federal investment in Indigenous health research. (Key in this is the $100m plus for the Network Environments for Indigenous Health Research; I am a Co-PI in the Saskatchewan NEIHR and executive director of the NEIHR National Coordinating Centre). 

There have been accusations of other fraudsters at other Canadian universities, notably Queens. But Bourassa's case has torched a fire of anger and grief that caught the institution flat footed. Fanned by social media - as is the modern way - people leapt to deride universities processes that have seen Indigenous positions given to non-Indigenous people. Many of these have simply applied for a position that did not specifically require an Indigenous appointment; others, like Bourassa, have fabricated genealogies and experiences that pass into cliché and perverse one upmanship of Indigenous trauma.

Dean of the Faculty of Native Studies at the University of Alberta. Professor Chris Anderson, has penned a thoughtful and insightful op-ed outlining the issues and ways forward. He identifies two characteristics to Indigenous identity claims in academia: 

"First, they are based primarily on self-identification that sits somewhere on a spectrum from complete dishonesty, to distant archival ancestors, to the family lore of a dark-skinned or high cheek-boned great/grandparent. Second, they involve no ongoing extended familial connection to an Indigenous community."      

The Bourassa Incident will reverberate through academia for some time yet. But the worse impacts will be on the very Indigenous communities, including Indigenous grad students, that Bourassa aped and in doing so, mocked. I met with Carrie several times, including pre-covid, when I could observe her up close and in vivo or should that be in vitro. The overwhelming impression was one of performance, an OTT display of "Indiginess". Draped in a Metis sash, big earrings, often tremulously holding an eagle feather, Carrie seemed as if she was play-acting, a life where everyday was Halloween. Dr. Tracy Bear eviscerates this dress-up as that of a "life-sucking vampire", dismissing accusations that it is a witch hunt as witches never enjoyed the power or wealth of Bourassa. 

There's a lot of healing to be done. I do expect efforts to "follow the money" and shine some sunshine on what are too often opaque processes of appointment and funding. And of course we must have a real engagement with Indigenous communities, in Saskatchewan, across the country called Canada, and indeed the international Indigenous world.

Some readings:
Tuck and Yang (2012): Decolonization is not a metaphor.

Also Albert Memmi on scientific racism. 

Monday, October 04, 2021

Too much weights...

Jake: Gee, where did you get those muscles from? Bro, you've been lifting those weights, huh?

Thug: …

Jake: What, you've done lag? Am I right?

Thug: You want to fuck with me?

Jake beats thug

Jake: You should learn to pay your respects. In case you want to know, it's Jake... Jake the Muss.


Jake: I was right... too much weights, not enough speed work. Useless prick.
                                                                                                                          Once Were Warriors, 1994

Mulvaney: There's only one sure thing in this life, Blondini, and that's doubt. I think.

                                                                                                                          Goodbye Pork Pie, 1981

No Natural Treasury: NZ coffer-keeper still behind the times

 Back in Aotearoa after several years away in Turtle Island, I am somewhat disturbed to find the NZ Treasury - now labelled 'Te Tai Ohanga - using the term 'natural disaster'.

This framing of disasters as exogenous to society was kicked to the sidelines in the 2015 UNDRR Sendai Framework, with disaster risks now recognised is embedded in development processes. 

The report is just published, I'll pick through it over the next week and see in what ways Aotearoa NZ is manifesting the much fabled resilience, and in particular how Māori are positioned. (The demographic projection for Māori, 21% of the total population by 2043, and 11% of the over 6.)

The prediction is that...

"Natural disaster events [sic] are likely to become more common and add economic and fiscal costs on top of the costs of more gradual temperature and sea level changes. Policy action today on adaptation could reduce some of those costs in the future."

Well, yes. 

As an example, the report provides this table of impacts from climate change.


The Climate Change Minister notes Te Arawa's climate change strategy provides some ways forward in this troubled future.

Te Urunga o Kea - Te Arawa Climate Change Working Group 

For those wanting a bit of the history of Indigenous Peoples and disaster risk reduction, John Scott and I wrote about this in a paper published a couple of years ago in the International Indigenous Policy Journal


Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Australian Indigenous community DRR

 Much online discussion about the Australian bushfires – outpouring of sympathy etc. – and within that a growing role for First Australian knowledges on, well, survival.
And lest we lose sight of the contributions from Australian academics, let me remind colleagues and peers of a prescient paper by Dr. Heidi Ellemor who in 2005 published a work arguing for Indigenous voices to be heard in the strategies and tactics of environmental management in their territories (Ellemor, 2005). Dr. Ellemor’s work builds on that of John Campbell (J Campbell, 2006; John Campbell, 2010) who flipped ascriptions of Pacific vulnerability (a colonial hangover) to one of resilience.

In the time of takeaways, I cut and paste this from the paper:
“The recognition and inclusion of indigenous peoples’ knowledge can help to destabilise the hegemonic status that certain understandings or preferred readings of a situation have gained.”

Page four for the pedantic.
I’m sure back in the early days of the 1992 Mabo Decision, Australians of all mobs could expect to see a more environmentally just and survivable landscape, and that even the most diehard Ozzie racist (and they can be a frightening beast) would accept a collaboration (alignment? acceptance? trust?!) in any knowledge that would help the very survival of what you claim and cherish is at mortal risk?

Dr. Ellemor articulated all this very well, a generation of Australians (and geography grads) ago.
I follow Aussie politics more than most not from the Lucky Country, and for two reasons: 1) the remarkable endurance of myriad Indigenous communities (see the Uluru policy change); and 2) if the metaphor of ‘frontline’ is to mean anything in this instance, then Aussies are in the trenches again.
Now to Kiwi’s, the imagery of brutal trench warfare is closely linked to our Aussie mates and neighbours; I’m sure the ‘ANZAC spirit’ has been invoked. And with the orange haze over Aotearoa, and people goggling PM25, we realize that if we’re not in the trenches just yet, we can smell the carnage from the assembly point in godszone…


Barnett, J. (2017). The dilemmas of normalising losses from climate change: Towards hope for Pacific atoll countries. Asia Pacific Viewpoint, 58(1), 3-13. Retrieved from doi:10.1111/apv.12153
Barnett, J., Lambert, S., & Fry, I. (2008). The hazards of indicators: insights from the the Environmental Vulnerability Index. Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 98(1), 102-119.
Campbell, J. (2006). Traditional disaster reduction in Pacific Island Communities. Retrieved from Lower Hutt:
Campbell, J. (2010). An overview of natural hazard planning in the Pacific Island region. Australasian Journal of Disaster and Trauma Studies, 2010-1. Retrieved from
Ellemor, H. (2005). Reconsidering emergency management and indigenous communities in Australia. Global Environmental Change Part B: Environmental Hazards, 6(1), 1-7. Retrieved from doi:
Lambert, S. (2014a). Indigenous Peoples and urban disaster: Māori responses to the 2010-12 Christchurch earthquakes. Australasian Journal of Disaster and Trauma Studies, 18(1), 39-48. Retrieved from doi:
Lambert, S. (2014b). Maori and the Christchurch earthquakes: the interplay between Indigenous endurance and resilience through a natural disaster. MAI Journal, 3(2), 165-180. Retrieved from
Simon Lambert

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