In a shocking case of alleged “pretendian” identity fraud, three women from Ontario have been charged with two counts of fraud each for allegedly falsely claiming to be Inuit and obtaining grants and scholarships meant for First Nations beneficiaries.
The women are twin sisters Amira and Nadya Gill and their mother, Karima Manji. They allegedly applied for and received Inuit beneficiary status as “adopted Inuit children” between October 2016 and September 2022, according to the Iqaluit RCMP.
“The women used this Inuit beneficiary status to defraud the Kakivak Association and Qikiqtani Inuit Association of funds that are only available to Inuit beneficiaries by obtaining grants and scholarships,” an RCMP statement said.
The alleged scam was exposed earlier this year by Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. (NTI), an organization that verifies claims of Inuit ancestry in Nunavut. At the time, they declared that they were investigating allegations of fraud against the Gill sisters and their mother.
NTI removed the three women from the beneficiary list in April and referred the case to the RCMP.
NTI president Aluki Kotierk said in a statement that the organization takes identity fraud very seriously and if the Gill sister’s are found guilty, they should return the funds they receive.
“”When we receive an application and it indicates who the birth family are and they’re Inuit, and we know that they’re Inuit, we’re not questioning every Inuk to say, ‘Did you give birth? Did this happen’,” explained Kotiierk.
“I would say that the process has worked, in the sense that when there were community members who came forward and said something’s not right, that we’ve looked into it.”
The issue of people who make false claims of Indigenous ancestry, often called “pretendians,” has been gaining attention across Canada. In some instances, individuals do it for personal or professional gain, while others do it out of a romanticization of Indigenous cultures. In other cases, unsubstantiated claims of Indigenous heritage are passed down through families and never questioned or challenged.
Jean Teillet, a Métis lawyer and author, told Global News earlier this year that she prefers to call it fraud rather than pretending, because it causes real harm to Indigenous communities and individuals.
“I’m not greatly fond of (the term) because ‘pretend’ sounds harmless, right? Like, kids pretend. And so it sounds like there’s no harm that comes out of this,” she told the outlet.
“I prefer to call it fraud because the definition of fraud is intentional deception to obtain a material gain and that’s what we’re talking about here.”
The Gill sisters are scheduled to appear in court in October.