Canada

Indigenous community hurt amid allegations of false identity at Queen's

Indigenous faculty and students at Queen's University say the administration has left them in the dark as questions grow in response to an anonymous report alleging six instructors, professors and associates falsely claimed Indigenous identity.

The anonymous report circulated online earlier this month and shortly after its publication, the university in Kingston, Ont., strongly rejected the report's allegations.

That rejection was then met by an open letter signed by nearly 100 Indigenous academics calling on the university to examine the potential harm of misrepresentation among faculty and staff.

Wendy Jocko, Chief of the Algonquins of Pikwakanagn First Nation and Albert Dumont, an Algonquin poet, storyteller and artist who was recently named the City of Ottawa's English-language poet laureate, have also signed the petition.

Celeste Pedri-Spade, one of the academics who also signed the letter, says the recent events have devastated her and nobody at the university has reached out to answer questions on the issue.

None of the six people accused in the report have publicly denied the allegations questioning their identity.

"As a Native woman, it's really difficult to process," said Pedri-Spade, who was invited to join Queen's last year to help develop a full Indigenous curriculum.

She said she's heard from Indigenous students and members of her Anishinaabe nation who want their questions answered.

"Those that are the most harmed in this process are visible, racialized, Indigenous folks," she said, adding the university should ensure this group has a safer space to share feelings.

Robert Lovelace, right, was one of six people named in an anonymous report alleging false claims of Indigenous identity. (Queensu.ca)

'Historical, ancestral anguish'

Other members of the Queen's community say they feel isolated and blame the administration for rallying around the accused.

"No one is helping us. ... There hasn't been any real interest, or intent, or action towards supporting students who may feel incredibly betrayed right now," said PhD candidate Geraldine King.

"There is this real deep sense of grief ... there's like this real anguish, like this historical, ancestral anguish."

King said she isn't surprised by the university's response, but instead by the silence from the accused.

"If students are expressing that they're feeling betrayed or they're feeling that there was a lack of truthfulness here, then really the impetus is on those people named to reply to that," King said.

A CBC News investigation has revealed questions about Robert (Bob) Lovelace's Indigenous claims. He's one of the six people included in the anonymous report.

Lovelace declined to comment.

Queen's University said it would not comment on "matters regarding individual faculty members," but stands by its previous statements defending the Indigenous claims by faculty.

Morning Star Tom, a master's candidate at Queen's University, said she has lots of questions about the false Indigenous identity claims, but can't get any answers. (Submitted)

Morning Star Tom, a master's candidate in education at Queen's, said the university's first response to the allegations "added a lot of fuel to the fire."

Tom, who specializes in the world Indigenous studies in education program, also worries about how these allegations will affect her thesis. She said a member of her thesis advisory committee was one of the six named.

"We do a lot of documented policy work and looking at the history of education and we know what the history of education meant for our people, so it's always heavy," Tom said. 

"So then to kind of have this come up is just another blow."

She, too, said the university should offer an unbiased place for Indigenous students to come together to ask questions and express their concerns and emotions.

School offers supports for students

In a written statement, Kanonhsyonne Janice Hill from Queen's said the school understands how the situation has impacted many in the Indigenous community. 

"Our initial actions focused on supporting those specifically named in the anonymous document, however, the Indigenous Elders on campus have offered support to anyone affected if people chose to reach out," Hill said.

She said staff and faculty seeking assistance have been directed to an employee assistance program, and her office is "exploring ways to have safe and respectful dialogue."

Hill also said Indigenous students have been provided support from various Indigenous student centres at the school. 

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