Gina Adams: White woman accused of faking indigenous ancestry quits job at Emily Carr university

Gina Adams: White woman accused of faking indigenous ancestry quits job at Emily Carr university
Gina Adams was among a group of faculty hired in a cluster in 2019 as part of a commitment to reconciliation, Indigenization, and decolonization (Gina Adams/Facebook)

VANCOUVER, CANADA: An American artist hired by Emily Carr University in 2019 as part of an initiative to hire more Indigenous faculty has resigned in the face of a scathing article in Maclean's magazine questioning her Indigenous heritage. Gina Adams, 57, was hired in 2019 as part of a targeted cluster hire of new Indigenous faculty members. Emily Carr in Vancouver, Canada, is a public post-secondary art and design institution. The alleged identity fraudster with white ancestry lied to build her career. She is alleged to have pretended to be a member of the White Earth Reservation. 

A thorough investigation of Maclean's magazine shows that none of her statements are true. Adams obtained the college position in 2019 by faking her Native American ancestry. Her multimedia work addresses heritage, ancestry, ritual, and land issues. The story surrounding her has been compared to that of Rachel Dolezal, a white woman who rose to notoriety after pretending to be Black.


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Photo: Gina Adams/Facebook)
Adams had been appointed as an assistant dean, featured by the Wall Street Journal, and included in an exhibition of Indigenous artists at the Brooklyn Museum (Gina Adams/Facebook)

The school's statement came in response to a lengthy article Adams wrote this week claiming that his grandfather was an Ojibwe. However, NoMoreRedFace claimed in a lengthy Twitter thread in March 2021 that Albert Theriault, a white man descended from French-Canadian parents, was Adams' grandfather. Adams responded by claiming in a 1,500-word statement distributed only to select individuals with ties to Emily Carr that her grandfather was a Chippewa who grew up on the White Earth Reservation in Minnesota and was forcibly taken to Carlisle School, a boarding school, at age eight. As Maclean's magazine reports, she stated in her message, "To the people on social media who have questioned my legitimate heritage, I say nothing. Author Michelle Cyca, a former member of Emily Carr's communications department, published in Maclean's Canadian magazine. The report addresses issues first raised by NoMoreRedFace, a now-deleted anonymous Twitter account that accused many people of Indigenous descent of falsifying their identities starting in 2020.

Macleans Magazine
October cover of Maclean's magazine featuring Gina Adam's story (Maclean's magazine)

Before accepting her position at Emily Carr, Adams was an assistant professor of visual art at Naropa University, a small, private university in Boulder, Colorado. Adams was described as "a modern Indigenous hybrid artist of Ojibwa Anishinaabe and Lakota origin of Waabonaquot of White Earth Reservation in Minnesota" in a university statement when she joined the faculty in August. She is "a descendant of both Indigenous (Ojibwe) and colonial Americans," according to her website bio. Adams taught a compulsory first-year course and a program called "Aboriginal Material Practice," which concentrated on the methods utilized in both traditional and modern Indigenous art.

Art critic Lucy Lippard noted in a footnote of a 2017 essay for a show of Adams's work that the artist had "few regrets about her lack of tribal membership papers,". However, she also referred to it as "a form of apartheid; 'No piece of paper could make that bond any stronger,'" according to the artist. The series Honoring Modern Unidentified, which features images of unidentified Indigenous people hidden behind encaustic and representing historical erasure and identity loss, was deemed by Lippard to be Adams' most "moving body of work" by the artist. Adams connected this series with the alleged life of her grandfather.

“Emily Carr University takes very seriously the allegations that a member of our faculty made a false claim to Indigenous identity,” the school’s statement reads, adding that an “Indigenous-led external review” would be initiated to establish better procedures for confirming the veracity of claims of Indigenous identity in their hiring process. But the university rejects that Adams’s hiring involved any explicit failure. “This was a rigorous process that involved interviews with ECU’s hiring committee, which included Indigenous faculty and staff, a public presentation, and one-on-one meetings with Indigenous students, Indigenous, and non-Indigenous faculty members. While this is an evolving area, ECU is confident this hiring process followed best practice at the time,” the statement adds.

The controversy surrounding Adams' identity claims brings to mind other instances in which Indigenous ancestry has been disputed in the academic community. Cheyanne Turions, a former curator for the SFU Galleries, resigned last year after admitting in a blog post that she was unclear about her Ojibway lineage. Turions had taken donations worth more than $100,000 from Canadian funding organizations meant for Indigenous people.

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