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UVic chancellor says she'll consider returning honorary degree if Turpel-Lafond's isn't revoked

Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, B.C.’s former representative for children and youth, has faced questions about her claim to be a treaty Indian of Cree ancestry, as well as her academic credentials
UVic chancellor Marion Buller received an honorary degree from Thompson Rivers University last year. Via University of Victoria

University of Victoria chancellor Marion Buller says if Thompson Rivers University does not revoke Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond’s honorary doctor of laws degree, she will consider returning hers.

Turpel-Lafond, B.C.’s former representative for children and youth, has faced questions recently about her claim to be a treaty Indian of Cree ancestry, as well as her academic credentials.

She could not be contacted on Friday.

Thompson Rivers University said in a statement Friday that it is reviewing Turpel-Lafond’s honorary degree, which was awarded in 2009. Buller received her honorary degree from the university last year.

”Following recent public questions regarding Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond’s biography and curriculum vitae — and pursuant to TRU’s policy regarding the awarding of honorary degrees — the honorary degree awarded to Turpel-Lafond by TRU in 2009 is under review,” it said.

Requests to rescind honorary degrees are considered by the university’s honours and awards committee, senate, the office of the president and the board of governors, it said.

“We are committed to these deliberations being careful, thorough, and respectful,” the statement said, adding the university’s governing bodies will seek advice from local Indigenous leaders as well as its Indigenous faculty and others.

Buller made her declaration in response to a post on LinkedIn, a social media site, that referred to Turpel-Lafond, writing: “TRU granted honorary degrees to both Mary Ellen and myself. If TRU does not rescind her degree, I will have to consider returning mine.”

She could not immediately be reached for comment on Friday.

Buller, who was appointed chancellor of UVic for a three-year term starting in January of this year, was the first Indigenous woman to serve as a provincial court judge in B.C., established the First Nations Courts of B.C., and was the chief commissioner into the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

She is a member of the Mistawasis Nehiyawak, a Cree First Nation in Saskatchewan, an Indigenous scholar and advocate for Indigenous issues and rights, said UVic.

Buller earned her undergraduate and law degrees at UVic.

During her career, Turpel-Lafond has received honorary degrees from several Canadian universities, including Vancouver Island University in Nanaimo and Royal Roads University in Colwood.

Both said last month they are consulting Indigenous partners on how best to proceed in the wake of calls for Turpel-Lafond’s degrees to be rescinded.

“Royal Roads is reviewing the concerns raised over the honorary degree awarded to Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, including consulting with academic and Indigenous colleagues. The process is moving forward,” the university said in a statement on Friday.

A Saskatchewan group called the Indigenous Women’s Collective has urged universities to rescind honorary degrees awarded to Turpel-Lafond.

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