Blog post

Artist accused of falsifying his Indigenous identity quits his university job

Gina Adams’ artwork “Broken Treaty Quilt: Fort Laramie” (photo courtesy of the artist)

Artist Gina Adams, whose claim to Indigenous identity has raised doubts, has resigned from her position as assistant professor at Emily Carr University, according to a statement released by the school yesterday (September 6). Adams, whose multimedia work explores themes of heritage, ancestry, ritual, and land, was hired in 2019 at Emily Carr as part of a targeted recruitment of new Indigenous faculty. Emily Carr is a post-secondary public school of art and design located in Vancouver, Canada.

The school’s statement was released following the publication this week of a detailed report in the Canadian magazine Maclean’s by writer Michelle Cyca, former employee of Emily Carr’s communications department. The article amplifies issues first raised by NoMoreRedFace, a since-deleted anonymous Twitter account that, as of 2020, accused several people claiming Indigenous ancestry of fabricating their identities. (Adams resigned on August 25, before the article was published.)

Adams has yet to respond to Hyperallergic’s immediate request for comment.

Prior to her position at Emily Carr, Adams was an assistant professor of visual art at Naropa University, a small private university in Boulder, Colorado. When she joined the faculty in August, Adams was introduced in a university announcement as “a contemporary Native hybrid artist of Ojibwa Anishinaabe and Lakota descent from Waabonaquot of the White Earth Reservation in Minnesota.” (On Adams’ website, her biography states that she is “descended from both Native (Ojibway) and Colonial Americans.”) Adams taught a required first-year course and a course titled ” Aboriginal Material Practice”, which focused on the techniques employed in traditional and contemporary Aboriginal art.

In a 2017 essay for an exhibition of Adams’ work, art critic Lucy Lippard mentioned in a footnote that Adams had “few regrets about his lack of tribal affiliation papers which the artist apparently called a “form of apartheid; “No piece of paper could strengthen that bond,” she says. Lippard considered Adams’ most moving work, a series titled Tribute to the modern unidentifiedphotographs of anonymous Natives wrapped behind encaustic symbolizing the historical erasure and loss of identity that Adams associated with his grandfather’s alleged life.

In March 2021, NoMoreRedFace alleged in a lengthy Twitter thread that Adams’ grandfather was not Ojibwe as Adams postulated, but a white man named Albert Theriault, born to French-Canadian parents. In response, in a 1,500-word statement privately shared with some people affiliated with Emily Carr, Adams claimed her grandfather was Chippewa, raised on the White Earth Reservation in Minnesota and forcibly expelled from Carlisle School, an assimilationist boarding school when he was eight years old. “To those people on social media who have questioned my rightful heritage, I say nothing,” she wrote in her statement, quoted in Maclean’s. “To my gallery owners, my university, and my wider Indigenous communities whom I deeply respect, I am happy to share my family lineage.”

Cyca and Maclean’s independently verified historical records that list Adam’s grandfather’s race as white. Cyca also contacted several living members of Adams’ family, who were unable to confirm Adams’ claims of indigeneity. When Cyca and a Maclean’s The fact-checker contacted White Earth Nation, with which Adams claimed affiliation, the tribe’s enrollment director was unable to find any records for her, either from her parents or any of His grand-parents.

“Emily Carr University takes allegations that a member of our faculty has made a false claim of Indigenous identity very seriously,” the school statement said, adding that an “external Indigenous-led review” would be initiated to establish better procedures to confirm veracity. Aboriginal identity claims in their hiring process. But the university denies that hiring Adams involved explicit failure. “It was a rigorous process that involved interviews with the ECU hiring committee, which included Indigenous faculty and staff, a public presentation and one-on-one meetings with Indigenous students, faculty members Indigenous and non-Indigenous faculty. Although this is an evolving field, ECU is confident that this hiring process followed the best practices of the times,” the statement added.

The saga of Adams’ identity claims recalls similar cases of Indigenous ancestry challenged in the academic sphere. Last year, former SFU Galleries curator Cheyanne Turions resigned after confessing in a blog post that she was unsure of her Ojibway ancestry. Turions had accepted over $100,000 in grants from Canadian funding agencies for Indigenous people.

In his article, Cyca writes: “Creating new hiring policies is a start. But universities must also reflect on their past, and not only after being solicited by a media investigation. I don’t think their reluctance to do so is due to indifference. I think university leaders see themselves as allies of Indigenous peoples and cannot face the truth that their efforts may have done more harm than good.