Retired Cree Senator Slams Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond’s Net Worth Claims

Retired Senator Lillian Dyck said she was “stunned” to see reports last fall questioning the Indian heritage of former judge Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, whose story she had been linked to and whose career she had celebrated.

Dyck, who is Cree and Chinese-Canadian, said in an interview Thursday that he thought “hallelujah” when Turpel-Lafond became Saskatchewan’s first indigenous judge in 1998.

It was “wonderful” to learn that Turpel-Lafond had overcome the many challenges that indigenous women disproportionately face in their personal and professional lives, said the emeritus professor of psychiatry at the University of Saskatchewan.

“And then I found out that it was all a facade.”

Dyck said a CBC investigation convinced her that Turpel-Lafond lied about being Indigenous, she specifically believes, doing real harm by exploiting the identity of Indigenous women, many of whom in Canada are underserved and vulnerable.

“Canadians now know that (indigenous women) are more likely to face violence, more likely to be killed, to go missing, and she used that identity to enhance her resume. And to me, that was the lowest you could do. “.

Dyck is among the signatories to a statement released this week calling on 10 universities to revoke the honorary degrees conferred on Turpel-Lafond.

Eight of the 10 schools flagged by the Indigenous Women’s Collective have confirmed they are taking steps to review the matter, while two have yet to respond to requests for comment sent Wednesday.

Dyck said he read the citations attached to the honorary degrees, many of which mention Turpel-Lafond’s alleged lived experiences as an indigenous person.

“It seems like I’ve really risen to the top … despite all the barriers that people like me have had to face,” said Dyck, whose mother was stripped of government-recognized Cree status when she married Dyck’s Chinese father.

Retired Cree senator surprised by ‘front’ of Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond estate. #IndigenousIdentity

The appropriation of indigenous identity by so-called “pretenders” deprives indigenous people of jobs and opportunities to better themselves, Dyck said, adding that it also affects future generations of indigenous children.

The Indigenous Women’s Collective says its members want to ensure that “the indigeneity of their children and grandchildren is respected and protected.”

Any organization or leader claiming to stand for truth and reconciliation must report any “infractions,” the statement added.

The statement was issued Tuesday after the University of Vancouver Island announced that Turpel-Lafond had returned an honorary juris doctorate in 2013. The school had told her it was under review due to requests from the class and members of the university community.

Contacted by phone on Wednesday, Turpel-Lafond declined to comment on requests to revoke her honorary degrees or the universities’ review processes.

He previously told CBC that growing up he did not question the biological paternity of his father, who he said was Cree.

Turpel-Lafond served as British Columbia’s representative for children and youth and, until last month, was a tenured professor of law at the University of BC.

Until last year, she also served as the academic director of the Center for Dialogue and History at the Indian Residential School at the university.

In addition to the CBC investigation, Dyck said Turpel-Lafond’s “evasion” in response to questions about her heritage has contributed to Dyck’s conclusion that she is not an Indian, with federally recognized status.

“It would have been so easy for her to prove her identity. If she claims to be a Cree Indian treaty, all she had to do was pull out her treaty card.”

In addition to revoking Turpel-Lafond’s honorary degrees, Dyck said he wants universities to take a stand, stating publicly that it is wrong and unacceptable to claim to be indigenous, and that there should be consequences, such as dismissal.

The University of Regina along with Carleton, McGill, Brock, Royal Roads, Mount Saint Vincent and St. Thomas Universities have confirmed that they have taken steps to investigate Turpel-Lafond’s case.

A statement from Simon Fraser University said a committee had been formed to implement a policy that includes procedures for revoking an honorary degree.

He said that once that policy is approved, the university will determine the next steps.

No responses have been received from Thompson Rivers and York Universities.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on January 19, 2023.

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