Dozens of academics want Queen’s University to retract a statement defending employees anonymously accused of falsely claiming Indigenous identity.
An online letter signed by scholars from Canada and beyond says the university ignored the allegations.
“They doubled down, ignored troubling information about several of their employees, issuing a statement before coordinating any meaningful dialogue with all of the Indigenous faculty and staff at Queen’s and with people within Indigenous communities, especially the Algonquin and Anishinaabe Nations, with whom they should consult,” the letter said.
Queen’s released a statement last Friday in response to an anonymous report released last week regarding six people linked to the school.
On Friday, the university called the anonymous document “misleading and inaccurate,” in part regarding the genealogy of the employees.
On Tuesday, in response to the most recent open letter calling for a retraction, Queen’s University released a statement, signed by Rahswahérha Mark Green, provost and vice-principal of academic and Kanonhsyonne Janice Hill, associate vice-principal of Indigenous initiatives at the school.
The statement said that as Indigenous members of Queen’s University, Green and Hill shared many of the concerns listed in the letter, but that the rejection from the school was swift because Queen’s was “privy to authentic personal records,” which allowed the staff to determine that the anonymous report cited “erroneous records,” and that it ignored important facts.
Global News is not sharing the names of those listed in the report, or the report itself, since it cannot authenticate the creators of and the allegations included in the document.
Still, signatories of the letter like Pamela Palmater, chairwoman in Indigenous governance at Ryerson University, were concerned by the university’s response to allegations provided in the report.
“It wasn’t until Queen’s’ response, which vigorously defended the people in the report and committed to seeking out the writer of the report that I thought, ‘Whoa, there is a real problem here,’ that Queen’s would respond like that without first talking to the Indigenous staff, faculty and students and the local First Nations,” Palmater said.
In an interview with Global News Tuesday, Palmater said that she did not know the people named in the report, nor did she know the report creators, but that the allegations of false Indigenous identity needed more than a simple denial from the school.
Like the open letter expressed, Palmeter said that she felt the school did not take any time to consider the allegations or its own hiring practices before denouncing it.
“If this was happening at any university and they were asking for my advice, I would have said, ‘Hold on, take a breath, meet with your Indigenous faculty and staff and see what concerns they have. Meet with the local First Nations and other Indigenous communities and see what kinds of concerns they have and determine if there’s an issue to begin with,’” Palmeter said.
She said whether the allegations in the report are true or not, she believes it speaks to a larger issue of dubious hiring practices of Indigenous people for positions in academia and in government.
“The issue in general is who’s making these determinations of who’s Indigenous and who’s not,” she said.
The open letter Palmeter signed expressed concern over schools using an honour system when hiring Indigenous academics at Canadian universities.
The letter called on all post-secondary schools across Canada “to establish ethical hiring guidelines that disrupt European settler self-Indigenization and that affirm First Nations, Inuit, and Métis legal orders and sovereignty.”
Green and Hill, in response to that allegation, said Queen’s understands that Indigenous identity is a complex issue, especially when it comes to hiring academic faculty and staff, and that it encourages inquiries that support Indigenous processes, but once again stood by its employees.
“The determination of who is considered a member of Indigenous community is made by Indigenous community. The individuals in question are accepted and respected members of Indigenous community, accepted by Indigenous leaders, Elders and the Indigenous Council of Queen’s University,” the statement from Green and Hill read.
— With files from Global News’ Alexandra Mazur