Amid scrutiny about her claims to Indigenous ancestry, the president of Memorial University of Newfoundland and Labrador (MUN) was finally turfed in the middle of her seeking shade with a temporary leave of absence.

Vianne Timmons’ apology last month for the hurt she may have caused by invoking Mi’kmaq heritage didn’t cut it with an Indigenous-led roundtable investigating her appropriation.

Her voluntary leave of absence ended with her dismissal.

Timmons joins a growing list of academics trying to put a feather in their caps by falsely claiming Indigenous backgrounds.

It’s almost as if the coolest thing an academic can do is hijack some First Nations or Metis membership – until caught, that is.

Validity seems unimportant.

Hundreds of Indigenous scholars, administrators, students and elders from across Canada had a virtual meeting last year, for example, to talk about how to prevent people who falsely claim they are Indigenous from taking benefits that aren’t intended for them. 

The National Forum on Indigenous Identity was organized by the First Nations University of Canada (FNUniv) in partnership with the newly formed National Indigenous University Senior Leaders’ Association (NIUSLA). 

The event was announced after a CBC investigation into Carrie Bourassa, who at the time was Canada’s leading Indigenous health scientist, found she had falsely claimed to be Indigenous.

Jacqueline Ottmann, the president of FNUniv and co-chair of NIUSLA, said it is time for Indigenous people across the country to address this issue together.

She said while there have been pretenders around for years, the problem is getting worse because of a growing number of scholarships, grants and jobs intended specifically for Indigenous people. 

“With the increase of these opportunities, it seems there has been an increase of people who are claiming Indigeneity,” said Ottmann. 

A student at Memorial University says the focus needs to be on the wider issues facing the Indigenous population following news yesterday that Timmons is no longer the MUN President.

Timmons came under fire in the final months of her tenure for claims of Indigenous heritage.

Beth Jacobs, a representative on the student union and an executive on The Circle of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit Students, says the issues at hand are far greater than a single person claiming to be Indigenous.

She says Timmons has been at the center of the discussion while greater issues of systemic racism, colonization, and neo-colonialism have been “dismissed.”

That has caused more harm to the community, says Jacobs, because at a time when the community is grieving and trying to process shock they have not had access to direct action.

And now, Jacobs says, Timmons is moving on without having to face any accountability. As well, they say because of Timmons’ dismissal, the Board of Regents and other areas of the province will not take accountability for systemic racism, instead pinpointing it on one person.

The Innu Nation says while the departure of Vianne Timmons from Memorial University closes the door on the issues surrounding the former president, larger issues policy issues about Indigenous peoples at MUN still need to be addressed.

This includes what they say is the “growing problem” of people and groups who wrongfully claim to be Indigenous.

The Innu Nation says the University can no longer sit on the sidelines on this issue and must take proactive steps to address it.

Earlier this year, retired senator Lillian Dyck said she was “stunned” to see reports questioning the Indigenous heritage of former judge Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, whose career she had celebrated.

Dyck, who is Cree and Chinese Canadian, said in an interview she thought “hallelujah” as Turpel-Lafond became Saskatchewan’s first Indigenous female judge in 1998.

It was “wonderful” to know Turpel-Lafond had overcome the numerous challenges Indigenous women disproportionately face in their personal lives and careers, said the professor emeritus in psychiatry at the University of Saskatchewan.

“And then I found out, it was all a facade.”


  • Mark Bonokoski

    Mark Bonokoski is a member of the Canadian News Hall of Fame and has been published by a number of outlets – including the Toronto Sun, Maclean’s and Readers’ Digest.