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Indigenous filmmaker is calling for fines and jail time for those falsely claiming to be Indigenous

Click to play video: 'Popular Haida filmmaker trying to put an end to people falsely claiming to be Indigenous' Popular Haida filmmaker trying to put an end to people falsely claiming to be Indigenous
Tamara Bell announced the creation of the Indigenous Identity Act, calling for massive fines and even prison time for anyone impersonating an Indigenous person – Jan 19, 2021

A popular Haida Nation filmmaker is trying to put an end to people falsely claiming to be Indigenous.

Tamara Bell announced the creation of the Indigenous Identity Act following a scandal involving Canadian actor and filmmaker Michelle Latimer, who claimed to be of First Nations descent when she is not.

“For somebody to steal that is reprehensible,” Bell said.

“I would like to see Michelle Latimer to take responsibility for her positions, and I would like her to take responsibility for what she has done to our community.”

For the past two decades, Latimer has claimed to be of Algonquin, Metis and French heritage, but a genealogist who had independently examined Latimer’s ancestry revealed only two Indigenous ancestors – dating back to the 17th century.  All other family members were identified as French-Canadian, Irish, or Scottish.

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Bell calls the practice “Indigenous identity theft”.

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On Monday, she proposed the Indigenous Identity Act (IIA) to protect Indigenous identity across Canada.

“It is my hope that the IIA, once enshrined into law will dissuade of non-Indigenous descent from impersonating an Indigenous person,” Bell said.

The IIA is supported by Indigenous elders across Canada who recognize the long-term value of validating Indigenous identity.

It mirrors legislation out of the United States, specifically the Indian Arts and Crafts Act. Violations can result in severe penalties for people who are assuming Indigenous identity falsely. Fines can reach as high as $250,000 with a five-year prison term.

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“This might have dissuaded Miss Latimer from assuming Indigenous identity,” Bell added.

Currently, self-identification is the tool most often used by Canadian institutions to identify who is Indigenous. This is opening the door to grants and other resources allocated specifically for Indigenous people.

“Millions of dollars intended to benefit Indigenous Canadians are currently being directed to non-Indigenous claimants, throughout all sectors of Canadian society,” Bell said.

“The unfortunate, but not entirely foreseeable result is fewer and fewer resources are available for truly Indigenous people.”

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In a statement released on its website, the executive director of the Indigenous Screen Office, Jesse Wente, said the ISO “will undertake a community engagement process in 2021 regarding Indigenous Identity that will inform future policy directions.”

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In a statement, the executive director of the Indigenous Screen Office, Jesse Wente, said the ISO “will undertake a community engagement process in 2021 regarding Indigenous identity that will inform future policy directions.”

It goes on to say, “this is a nuanced issue that requires time to listen to the many different community perspectives…Our goal is to have a set of new policies in place before our next anticipated round of funding in Fall 2021.”

The IIA is supported by Indigenous elders across Canada who recognize the long-term value of validating Indigenous identity.

“We’re drawing a line in the sand, enough is enough,” Bell said.

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