“This issue must be addressed, not only by legitimate Indigenous rights-holders but also by the state and other institutions.”

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The Manitoba Métis Federation says Indigenous identity theft in Canada has become rampant and needs to be combated, as “cultural thieves” look to use fake Indigenous identities for personal gain.

“We can no longer stand by and allow these cultural thieves and identity colonizers to get away with the damage they are doing to our peoples,” MMF President David Chartrand said in a Thursday media release.

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MMF announced Thursday they will join the Chiefs of Ontario (COO) to co-host an ‘Identity Summit,’ next month in Winnipeg aimed at “tackling the rampant identity theft faced by many Indigenous Nations in Canada today.”

The summit will include expert panellists discussing the “true national scale” of collective Indigenous identity fraud and options for combating it and creating a co-ordinated response.

“Our warnings of Indigenous identity theft of the Red River Métis, First Nation and Inuit peoples are at the forefront in this country, and the time has come for Canada to address these fraudsters,” Chartrand said.

A University of Saskatchewan 2022 report used the term “Indigenous identity fraudster” to define those who make “false claims to Indigenous identity, usually for personal material advantage,” and the report says the issue is growing in Canada, as people look for opportunities by claiming false Indigenous identities.

“The press has recently documented several high-profile cases of this ‘reverse passing,” ‘ the study reads.

“Unfortunately, these Indigenous identity fraudsters are becoming more common, and the numbers of those passing as Indigenous in Canada now number in the tens of thousands.

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“Those lives and careers are gained at the expense of real Indigenous peoples.”

Dr. Carrie Bourassa, a star health researcher at University of Saskatchewan, made dubious and changing claims of Métis, Anishinaabe and Tlingit ancestry over the course of her academic career. Bourassa resigned her position at the university in 2022 after being suspended indefinitely in 2021.

The report said Indigenous identity theft is also a growing problem in Canadian universities, which often rely on self-identification, which can lead to false claims of Indigenous ancestry by both students and faculty members.

“Universities did not anticipate and were not prepared for non-Indigenous people trying to take advantage of opportunities created for their Indigenous colleagues,” the report says. “And there was a general failure to recognize fraudsters and ignorance about how to identify Indigenous peoples.”

Article 8 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) states that Indigenous people have the right not to be subjected to the destruction of their culture, and Chartrand said MMF believes that identity fraud “extinguishes that right.”

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“It further requires Canada to provide effective tools to prevent and correct any action that has the aim or effect of depriving Indigenous peoples of their integrity as distinct peoples, or of their cultural values or ethnic identities,” Chartrand said.

“In essence, identity fraud is affecting the integrity of all Indigenous Nations as distinct peoples. This issue must be addressed, not only by legitimate Indigenous rights-holders but also by the state and other institutions.”

COO is an advocacy group representing and supporting First Nations communities in Ontario, and Regional Chief Glen Hare says the upcoming summit will be “historic.”

“We look forward to co-hosting this historic event with the Manitoba Métis Federation to address the issues that legitimate rights-holders are facing in all regions,” Hare said.

The summit will be held in Winnipeg on May 14 and 15.

With files from Saskatoon StarPhoenix and Canadian Press

• Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

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