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Haida activist calls for hefty fines, jail time against those who claim to be Indigenous

A Haida Nation filmmaker is demanding hefty fines and jail time for people caught falsely claiming they are Indigenous.

Tamara Bell proposed the Indigenous Identity Act Monday, rebuking Canadian filmmaker, Michelle Latimer, who had previously claimed to be of First Nations descent.

At a Vancouver press conference, Bell said “all too frequently perpetrators claim Indigenous identity, [which, for them] helps establish a successful career in film and television.”

Bell singled out Latimer’s actions as a prime example of “Indigenous identify theft.”

For the past two decades, Latimer claimed to be of Algonquin, Metis and French heritage. Her cultural identity came under scrutiny after an independent examination by a genealogist.

“It is my sincere hope that the IIA, once enshrined into law, will dissuade anybody of non-First Nations descent from impersonating an Indigenous person,” Bell said.

READ MORE: First Nations elders encourage COVID-19 vigilance (VIDEO)

The proposed legislation is similar to the U.S. Indian Arts and Crafts Act, where violations for those falsely claiming to be Indigenous can amount to $250,000 and up to five years in prison.

Bell thinks “this might have dissuaded Miss Latimer from assuming Indigenous identity” if such an act existed in Canada.

Self-identification is the predominant tool used by Canadian institutions to identify who is Indigenous, making those applicants eligible for art grants and resources.

Executive director of the Indigenous Screen Office, Jesse Wente, said that organization plans to revamp its policies regarding Indigenous identity.

The process will begin over the next months, sparking “conversations with elders and Indigenous organizations with knowledge and expertise,” he said.

“Our goal is to have a set of new policies in place before our next anticipated round of funding in fall 2021.”

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Sarah Grochowski

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Sarah Grochowski

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