Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond has returned an honorary doctorate granted to her by Vancouver Island University in 2013 after the university announced it would begin a process to determine her eligibility.
Turpel-Lafond made a name for herself as one of Canada’s most successful and decorated Indigenous scholars and legal professionals, but a recent CBC investigation brought into question whether she is Indigenous.
READ MORE: Disputed history
Because of this investigation, VIU says members of the university’s community and the Indigenous Women’s Collective requested a review of the honorary doctorate and Turpel-Lafond’s eligibility.
On Jan. 17, VIU announced Turpel-Lafond voluntarily returned the honorary doctorate after the university informed her it was initiating the process.
In a statement, VIU says it condemns Indigenous identity fraud and will continue the consultation process to develop and implement an Indigenous Identity Policy.
“False claims of Indigenous ancestry cause harm to Indigenous peoples,” Deborah Saucier, VIU president and vice-chancellor said in a news release. “This is why VIU’s future policy on Indigenous identity will honour the contributions of Indigenous students, faculty, staff and community leaders and will include safeguards to confirm Indigenous identity going forward.”
Turpel-Lafond has received a number of honorary doctorates, including from Royal Roads University, and there have been calls for universities to rescind them amid the controversy.