What’s behind the push to get Saskatchewan employers to verify Indigenous ancestry claims

The day that Sask. NDP critic proposes the province for a policy to screen 'pretendians' comes news of former U of R president who apologized for claims of Indigenous heritage. Global News file

The Saskatchewan NDP is pushing the provincial government to implement a policy for employers to verify Indigenous identity claims.

Betty Nippi-Albright, the Opposition critic for First Nations and Métis Relations, said when a person claims to be Indigenous but isn’t, and has received accolades, awards and prestigious positions, they take away space from Indigenous people.

“It’s so prevalent out there, and it took the Indigenous Women’s Collective to take a stand and to start calling this out saying, ‘This is not right when anyone pretends to be or claims to be indigenous’,” said Nippi-Albright.

“They are taking up space and making decisions on behalf of Indigenous people. And that creates huge, huge harm to the Indigenous community, especially when in this province and in Canada we talk about reconciliation.

Read more: What are ‘pretendians’ and how are they causing ‘severe harm’ to Indigenous communities?

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Nippi-Albright proposed the idea of implementing a policy on March 8  during question period. She said that employers have a responsibility to protect Indigenous people and said self-declarations are not cutting it anymore.

“We’ve seen far too many pretending and claiming positions where they shouldn’t be sitting at,” she said. “I proposed the government start initiating the attestation form to be completed. Regardless of whether it’s a designated position or not, all people that are employed (who) are claiming to be Indigenous people (need to) sign that form.”

The minister responsible for the Public Service Commission says at this current point in time, it is based on self-declaration.

“People self-declaring whether they have a disability or what their nationality is … that is the process that we have in place at this current point in time,” said Minister Carr.

“Part of the puzzle, with human rights, what you can and can’t ask people, it’s something that we’re going to look further into if we moved down that road.”

Minister Carr said there has been no issue reported so far.

Ron Kruzinski, the Saskatchewan Information and Privacy Commissioner, said there are no privacy laws that would prevent the development of such a policy but says each employee should develop a policy that would have certain safeguards around it.

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“If you are subject to the Freedom of Information and protection of Privacy Act, you’re entitled to collect personal information, but you need to have a purpose for collecting it,” he said. “So, I think this would fit in in people’s hiring processes.”

Kruzinski said if employers do think of having a policy put in place, they need to think it through carefully and should think about getting the applicant’s consent.

“I think it would be wise to obtain the consent,” he said.

The Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission said in an email statement that where there is material benefit to a person claiming an Indigenous or other identity, such as an employment opportunity, it is reasonable for an employer or organization to ask for confirmation.

Read more: Former U of R president apologizes, steps back from Memorial University amid Indigenous claims

“Many employers rely on self-reported identity to achieve their diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) goals,” stated the Commision. “The Commission’s Employment Equity Program asks partner organizations to assess whether their workforce has adequate representation from equity seeking groups (persons with disabilities, Indigenous persons, visible minorities, and women in underrepresented occupations).

“Equity Program partners typically rely on self-reported identity. This often leads to an underreport of employees from equity-seeking groups as individual employees may have a personal reason to not self-identify.”

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On March 13, Vianne Timmons, the former president of the University of Regina (U of R), put out a statement on the Memorial University website, an educational institution where she holds the presidential role.

Timmons is on a six-week voluntary paid leave of absence amid Indigenous claims scrutiny, following a CBC News investigation that questioned Timmons ancestry that led to her decision to ask the Board at Memorial University of Newfoundland and Labrador to permit her on temporarily stepping back from her duties as president.

Since, she has issued an apology, saying has never claimed to be Mi’kmaq, just to have Mi’kmaq heritage.

“While I have shared that I am not Mi’kmaq and I do not claim an Indigenous identity, questions about my intentions in identifying my Indigenous ancestry and whether I have benefitted from sharing my understanding of my family’s history have sparked important conversations,” she stated.

“I have been reflecting on this feedback from the Indigenous community, and I sincerely regret any hurt or confusion sharing my story may have caused. That was never my intention and I deeply apologize to those I have impacted.”

The U of R is aware of the controversy related to Timmons at Memorial University and released the following email statement to Global News.

Read more: Saskatchewan experts weigh in following release of Indigenous Identity Fraud report

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“In regard to Dr. Timmons’ role as President of the University of Regina, Indigenous heritage was not raised or considered as part of the presidential hiring process resulting in Dr. Timmons’ appointment in 2008, nor in review of her performance during her tenure until her resignation in early 2020,” the U of R stated.

Timmons received the Indspire Award for Education in 2019, an award that recognizes First Nations, Inuit, and Métis individuals who demonstrate outstanding achievement across Canada. It is not known if Indspire was aware of Timmons non-Indigenous ancestry.  Indspire did not respond to Global News request for comment.

Nippi-Albright said the Indigenous Women’s Collective took a stand to start calling out those who falsify Indigenous identity. The Indigenous Women’s Collective are a group of Indigenous women who aim to protect and voice the rights and injustices of Indigenous women.

In a tweet, the Indigenous Women’s Collective stated they assert that Indigenous identity theft is an act of colonial violence.

“We have challenged 11 universities to denounce Indigenous identity theft,” according to the tweet. “How can Memorial University develop policies that create the safety we are referring to, when it’s President has engaged in questionable conduct with this issue?”

Click to play video: 'University of Regina Indigenous faculty leader reacts to degree rescindment, impacts of claiming false identity'
University of Regina Indigenous faculty leader reacts to degree rescindment, impacts of claiming false identity



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