Aly Bear, vice chief of the Federation of Sovereign Indian Nations (FSIN), says she acted too soon when she signed a public statement of support for Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, following the publication of a CBC story questioning Turpel-Lafond’s claims to Indigenous ancestry.
On Oct. 12, a CBC investigation presented evidence that Turpel-Lafond’s decades long claim to being a treaty Indian of Cree ancestry were in doubt.
Following publication, several Indigenous organizations, including the FSIN, issued news releases offering support to Turpel-Lafond.
The FSIN represents Saskatchewan’s First Nations.
The FSIN’s statement said it, “supports our First Nations governments and their inherent right to determine their membership and citizenship according to their customs, practices and traditions. I stand with the Muskeg Lake Cree Nation and its member, Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond.”
It was signed by Vice Chief Aly Bear.
Bear now says she regrets that.
“Since then, new information has come to my attention and I wish to retract my previous statement,” she wrote Thursday. “I apologize for this statement made.”
While Bear does not say what new information caused her to change her mind, she does say that she no longer believes Turpel-Lafond is Indigenous.
“It has been found Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond’s ancestry has no connections to Indigenous roots,” she wrote. “I do not support false claims to Indigenous identity by non-Indigenous peoples.”
False ancestry claims ‘extremely offensive’
Bear, a member of the Whitecap Dakota First Nation in Saskatchewan, pointed out that while she has changed her mind about Turpel-Lafond, she still strongly believes that “our Nations have the sovereign right to determine their membership.”
Bear said the fact that Turpel-Lafond has had a successful career while falsely claiming Indigenous ancestry is “extremely offensive.”
“These actions contribute to the barriers Indigenous people face, due to colonialism, intergenerational trauma and racism.”
Bear said she is committed to working with others to root out false ancestry claims.
“We must continue to call out those who use Indigenous ancestry as a means to gaining opportunity to spaces reserved for Indigenous peoples but do not have any actual connections to Indigenous ancestry,” she wrote.
Union of BC chiefs offers ‘no comment’
After CBC’s original story published, the most strongly worded defence of Turpel-Lafond came from the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs (UBCIC). In its statement the organization defended her as “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.”
That statement condemned CBC’s story as “tabloid style.”
“Investigations into the ancestry of individuals, filled with personal photos and digging into private matters, does not move justice, rights implementation, and reconciliation forward,” the Oct. 12 statement said.
Earlier this week, CBC published the birth certificate of Turpel-Lafond’s father William Turpel, which says he was the natural-born child of British parents, not an adopted Cree boy of undetermined parentage as Turpel-Lafond has claimed.
In the early hours of the following morning, CBC received a message from a Gmail account in the name of Stewart Phillip UBCIC. Stewart Phillip is the name of the grand chief of the UBCIC.
“Garbage. Yellow journalism. Tabloid crap. Misogynistic!!” the email said.
CBC called Phillip on his personal cellphone to discuss the email but he hung up.
Then, CBC texted a copy of that email to him, asking if he would be willing to discuss it.
“No comment,” was his reply to multiple requests.