Memorial University president Vianne Timmons is taking a voluntary, six-week paid leave of absence while a committee of Indigenous leaders holds discussions on Timmons’ past claims of Mi’kmaw heritage.
The move comes after a CBC investigation raised questions about Timmons’ past membership in an unrecognized Mi’kmaq band in Nova Scotia and her past statements on Indigenous heritage.
The Board of Regents announced Monday it is striking a committee of Indigenous leaders to lead a Roundtable Engagement with Indigenous Peoples to consider the president’s claims of Mi’kmaw heritage and provide guidance to the board on this matter.
“While our initial understanding was that President Timmons did not claim Indigenous identity, we have received a lot of feedback from the community,” Glen Barnes, the chair of the Board of Regents, wrote in a statement. “We have received important questions about the president’s actions, and we believe we have a responsibility to Indigenous Peoples and a fiduciary duty as a Board to explore these questions further.”
Timmons also released a statement Monday with an apology.
“While I have shared that I am not Mi’kmaq and I do not claim an Indigenous identity, questions about my intentions in identifying my Indigenous ancestry and whether I have benefitted from sharing my understanding of my family’s history have sparked important conversations on and beyond our campus,” Timmons wrote. “I have been reflecting on this feedback from the Indigenous community, and I sincerely regret any hurt or confusion sharing my story may have caused. That was never my intention and I deeply apologize to those I have impacted.”
Dr. Neil Bose, interim provost and vice-president academic, will fill in as acting president during Timmons’ leave of absence.
“We have started the process of engaging with Indigenous leaders in our province to lead these conversations and we will have an update about the scope, timelines and leadership of the Roundtable Engagement soon,” Barnes wrote.