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 Métis 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.”
In her role, Greenwood will work with Indigenous communities to play an active role in health research that reflects their needs.
She is currently an academic leader for the National Collaborating Centre for Indigenous Health and a professor in the education program at UNBC. In 2021, she was appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada for her work on early childhood education and Indigenous health policy.
Her appointment was praised by Natan Obed, president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, RoseAnne Archibald, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations and Cassidy Caron, president of the Métis National Council.
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 that legally, she is non-status, not-treaty Cree, but added, “those are not my terms, those are colonial terms. I am a Cree woman.”
She explained that her grandfather was enfranchised when his grandparents accepted $12 in scrip on his behalf — a process used in the 19th and 20th centuries to make First Nations and Métis people give up their land and status rights.
The federal government is considering reversing enfranchisement following a Charter challenge launched last year in the Supreme Court of British Columbia.
Greenwood said her family story “epitomizes colonization and the attempt to eradicate Indigenous people in this country.”
“What’s important is I know who I am,” she said.
Greenwood said she had no comment on Bourassa.
“What I am focused on is the work that we have to do,” she said.