Indigenous scholars ‘validated’ by report urging Queen’s to verify identity claims

Several Indigenous scholars say calls for Queen’s University to apologize and create a process to verify the Indigenous identity of staff are validating and could be a promising step forward.

The recommendations come from an independent review of how Kingston University, Ontario assesses Aboriginal identity when hiring people. They follow allegations that several people associated with the school falsely claimed to be indigenous.

Celeste Pedri-Spade, associate professor and Queen’s National Scholar in Indigenous Studies, said she felt « validated » by the report.

The 32-page report by the First Peoples Group, an Indigenous consulting firm, addresses « obvious concerns of many Indigenous stakeholders, » said Pedri-Spade, « particularly that the institution was not necessarily implementing means to ensure that people were who they were. say they were. »

The report’s seven recommendations include the creation of a department of native studies.

They also call on the university to establish a validation policy for Indigenous faculty which – at a minimum – should include citizenship or membership cards, as well as a professional reference and references from a family member and of an elected First Nations, Inuit or Métis leader.

The report’s authors said the university must deal with staff who do not meet the new requirements, whether that means finding them alternative assignments or firing them.

Celeste Pedri-Spade is an associate professor at Queen’s University and a member of the Lac des Mille Lacs First Nation. She says she feels « validated » by the recommendations in Friday’s report. (Heavenly Pedri-Spade/provided)

After the report was released on Friday, principal Patrick Deane said the university would set up an Indigenous oversight board to advise the school on how to move forward.

While the report’s recommendations are a good step in addressing the harm done to Indigenous students, faculty and staff, Pedri-Spade wondered how this oversight committee would be established.

« Are they going to work in a way that…addresses and implements these recommendations very quickly? » she asked.

« Or is it yet another layer of bureaucracy…that’s more to soften the blow, perhaps, to some of the people who frankly have tenuous or false claims to autochthony in the institution? »

“Ardoch is not a First Nation”: report

The report also denounces the university’s ongoing affiliations with an unstatus community in eastern Ontario, the Ardoch Algonquin First Nation, to which three of its employees and associates in question belong.

They understand:

Ardoch is not considered an Algonquin Nation by the Algonquin Anishinabeg Nation Tribal Council or the Algonquins of Ontario, nor is it recognized as a Band or First Nation by the federal government.

“Ardoch is not a First Nation although it positions itself as such,” the report states.

Veldon Coburn, a professor of Indigenous studies and political science at the University of Ottawa, said he was glad the report “said the right thing” about Ardoch.

“The First Peoples Group has really taken a courageous step forward to speak truth to power here,” said Coburn, a member of the Algonquins of Pikwakanagan First Nation and a vocal critic of Ardoch’s legitimacy.

Veldon Coburn, pictured here in 2017, was highly critical of Queen’s University’s relationship with the Ardoch Algonquin First Nation. (Radio Canada)

The future of the accused associates uncertain

Despite the report’s recommendation, Queen’s has not committed to sever ties with Ardoch altogether.

« Queen’s recognizes that we have a long, historic relationship with Ardoch and that many people are concerned about that relationship, » said Janice Hill, associate vice principal of Indigenous initiatives and reconciliation at the university.

The university plans to « review our working relationship with Ardoch and anyone else on a case-by-case basis, » she said.

Hill would not share what would happen to staff members who falsely claimed Indigenous identity.

CBC has contacted all staff against whom allegations have been made, but has not received a response. The Ardoch Algonquin First Nation office declined to comment when reached by phone.


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