UBCIC backs Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond after report questions her Indigenous ancestry

The Union of BC Indian Chiefs (UBCIC) says it’s standing with Dr. Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond after her Indigenous heritage was called into question by a CBC News investigation.

“Dr. Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond has been a fierce, ethical, and groundbreaking advocate for Indigenous peoples for decades including representing the UBCIC for more than five years and a long working relationship before that,” UBCIC said in statement., released late Wednesday.

“She has demonstrated time and again her commitment to human rights, justice, and reconciliation, including in her role as the Representative for Children and Youth and her investigation into systemic racism in the health care system ‘In Plain Sight: Addressing Indigenous-specific Racism and Discrimination in B.C. Health Care’.”

The investigation published Wednesday purports to outline numerous ways in which Dr. Turpel-Lafond’s past claims of Indigenous ancestry are not consistent with publicly available records.

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In a statement to CBC, Dr. Turpel-Lafond insists her father was of Cree descent.

The UBCIC argues that First Nations identity and community membership are for Indigenous peoples to decide and it’s not the role of the media to “tell us who we are.”

“In our view the media should be focusing its resources and energy on holding Crown governments to account, reporting on the enduring legacy of colonialism in Canada, and investigating the challenges faced by Indigenous peoples around the globe.”

The CBC report cites dozens of news stories from the past 30 years saying Dr. Turpel-Lafond was born and/or raised on the Norway House Cree Nation in Manitoba, while public records and yearbooks say she was born in Niagara Falls.

“I don’t check every media story about me or my experience/history, nor am I accountable for how media or others portray me,” Dr. Turpel-Lafond is quoted as saying.

The UBCIC ended its statement by saying “we are incredibly proud of the work Dr. Turpel-Lafond has done for the UBCIC and look forward to continuing this work into the future.”

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