UNBC professor to replace federal health director who falsely claimed Indigenous ancestry

Canada’s federal agency for funding health research has announced who will replace the former scientific director ousted last year after a CBC News investigation cast doubt on her claims to Indigenous ancestry.

The Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) said Thursday that Dr. Margo Greenwood has been named interim scientific director of the Institute of Indigenous Peoples’ Health (IIPH). The institute, one of 13, provides much of the funding in Canada for health research focused on Indigenous people.

The organization will be hosted at the University of Northern British Columbia in Prince George, where Greenwood is a professor.

“Holy cow,” Greenwood said during a news conference announcing her appointment, drawing a laugh from the crowd.

“I am deeply honoured to have been selected by CIHR’s governing council … I look forward to fulfilling the commitment set out in CIHR’s strategic plan and the operational plan of the institute. Self-determination. Engagement. Collaboration with First Nations, Inuit and Metis people, organizations and communities is my first priority in taking on this work,” she added.

“There is so much to be done and I am so excited to be taking on this challenge.”

Greenwood, who said her mother was English and her father was Cree, said she grew up on Treaty 6 lands in central Alberta.

“My Indigenous roots run very deep in those Treaty 6 lands,” she told the crowd.

Greenwood’s predecessor, Prof. Carrie Bourassa, was cut from the CIHR in November.

That fall, CBC News published an investigation showing there was no evidence for Bourassa’s public claims to be of Métis, Anishinaabe and Tlingit ancestry. In her response to the report, Bourassa changed her story and claimed she was Métis because she was adopted by a Métis friend of her grandfather. 

The investigation shocked many academics across the country. The effects were especially felt among those working in Indigenous circles, where Bourassa had heavy power and influence. 

In an interview with CBC News after the news conference, Greenwood said her “lived experience” as an Indigenous woman will be an asset in her new role.

“I grew up in a time when it wasn’t always popular to be Indigenous. Gratefully, those times have changed a lot. Does there need to be more change? Of course there does. But I’ve had the advantage of living through those,” she said. 

“It’s the questions that we’re asking around identity, reconciliation … all of those big questions that all of us in this country are grappling with. I have a perspective and an experience to bring.”

Greenwood said she had no comment on Bourassa.

“What I am focused on is the work that we have to do,” she said.

The Canadian Institutes of Health Research ended Carrie Bourassa’s appointment as IIPH scientific director last November. (Morgan Modjeski/CBC News)
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