SFU Gallery curator resigns after accusations of falsely claimed Indigenous ancestry

Cheyanne Turions wrote in her blog she was changing her self-identification to settler

SFU Gallery front door
PHOTO: Allyson Klassen / The Peak

By: Karissa Ketter, News Writer 

Vancouver curator Cheyanne Turions resigned this November from her position at SFU Galleries due to controversy over her identity. Turions previously self-identified as having Indigenous ancestry, but on April 19, 2021, reported on her blog she has no Indigenous ancestry. 

I was recently called to investigate my identity in more detail and discovered that the family history that I was raised with does not match up with historical records. In response, I changed my self-identification to settler,” Turion wrote.

Her resignation was announced on November 5, 2021, almost seven months after the discovery of her identity. The SFU School for the Contemporary Arts released a statement in response. “SFU Galleries’ Curator Cheyanne Turions, who has changed her self-identification from mixed settler/Indigenous to settler ancestry, led to distrust, anger, sadness, resentment, and stress among members of our community. There is harm in assuming the place of another.”

SFU Galleries had originally made an Instagram post on March 31, 2021 acknowledging Turions’ change in identification. The post was a statement from the director of SFU Galleries, Kimberely Phillips. 

She wrote, “SFU Galleries is now moving through a process that demands deep consultation and careful listening to many different people — most importantly, to members of the Indigenous art community and Indigenous university faculty and staff.”

The Peak reached out to Phillips for more information on Turions’ resignation. Phillips declined to comment.

Turions had received $73,000 worth of grants from Canada Council and another for $30,000 from the Ontario Arts Council that are intended for Indigenous curators. 

Turion’s wrote, “As someone who was raised believing I had mixed settler and Indigenous ancestry [ . . . ] Growing up, I didn’t question who I was told I was. And yet, as an adult, I should have been more curious about my bloodlines.”

Instances of “pretendians” — people who falsely identify as having Indigenous ancestry — are frequently reported. Michelle Latimer, director of Trickster was also accused of falsifying her Indigenous identity. 

Writing about Latimer, Blackfoot and Sami writer, filmmaker, and actor Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers explained, “Latimer has shared that she is relying on oral history to claim Indigenous ancestry. That is fair but it is not adequate. When one takes up space and resources, it is an expectation that they have done the work of ‘coming home.’”

She added, “​​​​Ultimately, Canadian institutions need to be held to account for closing doors on countless Indigenous creatives who do not embody the necessary degree of whiteness to succeed.”

Kim TallBear, professor of Native Studies at the University of Alberta, expanded on the significance between genetics and Indigeneity in an interview with CBC. “We construct belonging and citizenship in ways that do not consider these genetic ancestry tests. So it’s not just a matter of what you claim, but it’s a matter of who claims you.”

Turions’ blog post noted, “I am working to understand the implications of my changed self-identification. I am hoping to build a framework of accountability that is articulated through relationships and that is committed to transformative forms of justice, while also recognizing that not all harms can be repaired.”

SFU has not released any information about the details or terms of Turions’ resignation.