A major Canadian university has stripped former B.C. representative for children and youth Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond of an honorary degree.
In a Monday statement, the University of Regina said it had rescinded an honorary doctor of laws degree it bestowed on Turpel-Lafond in 2003.
The school said the decision came following a request from the Indigenous Women’s Collective to revoke such degrees.
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In a statement in November, that group said the honours should be withdrawn because Turpel-Lafond “stole” the identity and lived experiences of Indigenous women.
Last fall, a series of reports by the CBC raised a number of questions about Turpel-Lafond’s claims about her academic accomplishments and her claims of Indigenous ancestry.
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“In making this decision the University conducted consultations and considered the evidence that has emerged in the media with respect to Turpel-Lafond’s claims of Indigenous heritage/ancestry. Additionally, a number of other stated credentials and academic achievements have been shown to be untrue,” the University of Regina said.
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“While the University recognizes that Turpel-Lafond has been a strong advocate for Indigenous rights and child welfare, her accomplishments are outweighed by the harm inflicted upon Indigenous academics, peoples and communities when non-Indigenous people misrepresent their Indigenous ancestry.”
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In a statement posted to Twitter, Indigenous Women’s Collective praised the University of Regina’s move, and renewed its call for other universities to follow suit.
“We applaud the University of Regina for their courage and commitment to upholding academic integrity, denouncing Indigenous identity fraud, and conducting itself in the spirit of Truth and Reconciliation,” it said.
Last month, the University of Regina and five other Canadian universities told the Canadian Press said they were reviewing Turpel-Lafond’s honorary degrees in the wake of the request.
Turpel-Lafond has returned similar degrees Vancouver Island University and Royal Roads University.
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Last month, the University of British Columbia confirmed that it had parted ways with Turpel-Lafond in December.
Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond is no longer employed at UBC
Turpel-Lafond served as director of the UBC Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre until June, and remained a professor at the Allard School of Law until UBC cut ties with her.
In a statement posted to her Twitter account in October, Turpel-Lafond maintained she was “of Cree, Scottish & English heritage & hold the name aki-kwe & am an active member of the Muskeg Lake Cree Nation,” and that her “credentials have been vetted at the highest levels of our country.”
Turpel-Lafond has been a high-profile public figure in B.C. and across Canada for decades in areas of Indigenous human rights and constitutional law.
In 2020, she authored the report In Plain Sight: Addressing Indigenous-specific Racism and Discrimination in B.C. Health Care.
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