Culture provides people with the underlying assumptions of life, helping us make sense of our lives and the world. Various cultural aspects are unique to specific cultures, and due to globalization and human movement, others have managed to interact with these cultures. In North America, especially Canada and the United States of America, there are native tribes who have conserved their cultures throughout the centuries. Many non-natives have been attracted to these, and rampant cultural fraud has occurred. Cultural fraud is the promotion of cultural images and ideals of the good life from a specific culture that the economy or personal gains but does not meet human psychological needs or reflect the realities of social conditioning. These images and ideals may hold sway over individuals or communities and encourage goals and aspirations that are in themselves unhealthy (Pember, 2007).
With cultural fraud’s rise, some cases have attracted international news and public apologies. There have also been many confirmed potential cases of identity fraud at universities in America and Canada and among prominent people society views as role models. Identifying with a particular tribe or group is an aspect of self and identity. Indigenous personality and identity concern themselves with the behaviour and the diverse development concepts based on visions, traditional values, priorities and needs. They result in self-awareness and identity, thus cultural heritage and pride (Li, 2021). Belonging to an indigenous community is a sense of identity that only some can easily copy if under fraudulent conditions and pretences. The most evident factor in these claims of cultural or ethnic fraud cases is the self and self-perceptions. These people use false information to create an identity and indulge in their fantasies about their cultural heritage (Whitaker, 2022). The perspective that a personality can only be interpreted and understood within the concept of the culture has led to cultural fraud, where people use their identity to gain favours and cause harm when resources and jobs go to undeserving people.
One of the most recent cases is of Memorial University President Vianne Timmons, who claimed to be a member of an Indigenous community, Mi’kmaq, and even claimed prizes. These cases are mainly due to cultural stereotypes that these Indigenous people are perceived to embody. The Stereotype that Ms Timmons embodied depended on Non-Native people not knowing what they were looking at or what constitutes the legitimate Canadian or American Indian identity. People like Ms Timmons exploit people’s lack of knowledge about whom Indigenous people are by perpetuating ambiguity in different ways. Self-identification, or DNA tests, obscure the fact that Indigenous people have not only a cultural relationship to a specific tribe but a legal one depending on their country of origin. Cultural frauds rarely name any people they are related to in the native community or in their family tree.
News articles call out Ms Timmons on her conduct, and they compare differently. These articles include: “Canada: university president to take leave amid controversy over Indigenous ancestry claim”, Written by Olivia Bowden and published by The Guardian. The Second article is titled “University president on paid leave after Indigenous identity claim: ‘I deeply Apologize’”, written by Joe Silverstein of the New York Post and the last article is “University president apologizes for claiming she was indigenous and Accepting charity award”, written by David Millward and published by the Telegraph. The most common claim from all these articles is that the University president claimed that she was indigenous and accepted a charity award.
The claims by Ms Timmons in all the articles are consistent with the stereotype that most people use to claim an identity of an Indigenous Tribe, which is the embodiment of the non-Native people not knowing what they were looking at or what constitutes a real Indigenous person. She rode on this stereotype and joined an unrecognized Bras d’Or Mi’kmaq First Nation in Nova Scotia and received, And National Indigenous-led charity celebrating First Nation Education and Achievements (). In all the articles, it is clear that Ms Timmons claimed that she had an Indigenous ancestry but has never claimed Indigenous identity. This claim raised where culture and identity intersect or how we differentiate these two aspects.
Millward (2023), goes ahead to report that the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation went further to check on her ancestry as she claimed that her great-great-great-grandmother was Mi’kmaq, and there was no record of her family belonging to the Indigenous tribes of Canada Therefore, this claim corresponds to how ethnic or cultural fraudsters lie to the public by giving vague or farfetched relations to an Indigenous tribe.
The Telegraph and Guardian articles further explain and name how different prominent figures have overstated their claims of an Indigenous Identity. These events have led to claims of who can belong to a specific Indigenous community and which factors can lead to such claims being treated as fraud. The emphasis on how many people and their social standings have been involved in cultural or ethnic fraud indicates how rampant this action is in Canadian and American societies.
There is a symbiotic relationship between media and culture. Traditionally, the entire society watched, read, and listened to a small pool of hit content. However, today, we live in a micro-culture era where everyone is into different things, and each news outlet caters to a specific population niche. The media reflects a population’s cultural values through the news covered and how it covers the news. All the news items promote a specific aspect of culture (Hanusch, 2015). The News items used in this article it is clear that the reporters’ views on ethnic or cultural fraud are similar, and they strongly criticized the vice. By criticizing this action, it is clear that they understand the importance of respecting other people’s cultures regardless of the benefits they may help one gain. The American community culture also influences how news is reported, and all the articles are from American news e-newspapers, thus the tone used in reporting about this news.
Bowden, O. (2023, March 15). Canada: University president to take leave amid controversy over the Indigenous ancestry claim. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2023/mar/15/vianne-timmons-canadian-university-president-indigenous-claim
Millward, D. (2023, March 15). The university president apologizes for claiming she was Indigenous and accepting a charity award. The Telegraph. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2023/03/15/university-president-apologises-claiming-indigenous-accepting/
Silverstein, J. (2023, March 14). University president on paid leave after Indigenous identity claim: ‘I deeply apologize’. New York Post. https://nypost.com/2023/03/14/university-president-on-paid-leave-amid-questions-over-indigenous-identity/
Whitaker, D. G. (2022, October 28). Sacheen Littlefeather and ethnic fraud – why the truth is crucial, even if it means losing an American Indian hero. The Conversation. https://theconversation.com/sacheen-littlefeather-and-ethnic-fraud-why-the-truth-is-crucial-even-it-it-means-losing-an-american-indian-hero-193263
Hanusch, F. (2015). Cultural Forces in Journalism: The impact of cultural values on Māori journalists’ professional views. Journalism Studies, 16(2), 191–206.
Li, M. (2021). The Contributions of indigenous personality and parenting style to life satisfaction development in Chinese Adolescents. Frontiers in Psychology, p. 12, 702408.
Pember, M. A. (2007). Ethnic Fraud? Diverse Issues in Higher Education, 23(25), 21.