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Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond no longer employed with UBC

Cutting of ties follows questions into scholar’s claims of Indigenous ancestry
Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, former B.C. Representative for Children and Youth, speaks to a reporter in Vancouver, B.C., on Friday, Nov. 13, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

The University of British Columbia and prominent B.C. scholar and lawyer Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond have cut ties.

UBC’s director of university of affairs, Matthew Ramsey, said he couldn’t provide details on why the previously tenured law professor is no longer employed there, but in a statement to Black Press Media Turpel-Lafond said she decided to retire based on her “age and stage of life.”

“I look forward to focusing on my health, family and spiritual journey. For me, this takes priority over any job, title, accolade or achievement.”

Ramsey said Turpel-Lafond hasn’t worked at UBC since Dec. 16.

The move comes in the wake of a CBC News investigation published on Oct. 13 that questioned Turpel-Lafond’s claims of Indigenous ancestry. The story digs into her past and finds contradicting information between the Cree heritage she has asserted, and which has characterized her career as an accomplished scholar and former judge, and historical records of her family and hometown.

Turpel-Lafond has been largely silent on the matter, but in a tweet following the release of the story said “I am of Cree, Scottish & English heritage & hold the name aki-kwe & am an active member of the Muskeg Lake Cree Nation. My credentials have been vetted at the highest levels of our country.”

At the time, UBC said it couldn’t comment on personal information about its employees, but that it relies on self-identification by candidates when hiring for Indigenous scholarship or leadership roles. Turpel-Lafond formerly directed the university’s Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre.

She is also well-known in B.C. for producing the In Plain Sight: Addressing Indigenous-specific Racism and Discrimination in B.C. Health Care report, and working with the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs on legal efforts surrounding Heiltsuk grandfather and granddaughter Maxwell Johnson and Tori-Anne Tweedie.

The UBCIC backed Turpel-Lafond in October when the investigation was released.

“Issues of First Nations identity and community membership are for Indigenous peoples, families, and governments to sort through based on their own laws, customs, and traditions,” the union said in a statement at the time.

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated with a statement from Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond.

READ ALSO: UBCIC backs Turpel-Lafond after investigation questions her Indigenous heritage


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About the Author: Jane Skrypnek

I'm a provincial reporter for Black Press Media.
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