Indigenous concert canceled due to questions over artist’s identity claims
The Vancouver Park Board and the Britannia Community Services Center on Sunday canceled an event that had been advertised as part of an Indigenous concert series in Grandview Park.
The cancellation came after community members raised concerns about whether the person booked to headline the show was actually Indigenous.
Instead of the concert, Britannia staff led a discussion in the park with members of the community to explain the situation.
“The mistake we made for an Indigenous concert series was hiring a self-identified Indigenous person without acknowledgment or checking with their family, Nation or East Van Indigenous family to retain them” , said Cynthia Low, executive. director at Britannia.
Michelle Wright, who uses the stage name Michelle Heyoka, is the artist who has been booked to headline the event.
In March 2022, she was a featured performer at a First Nations night hosted by the Vancouver Canucks.
She also sang the national anthem at a Canucks truth and reconciliation night during an exhibition game in Abbotsford in October.
In a 2021 interview for a YouTube show called Music Talks with Miss Sapphire, the host asked Wright to discuss her legacy.
“I am an aboriginal woman. My origin is Mizo, which is an indigenous and Chinese tribe located in India,” Wright replied.
The Indigenous events she has attended are meant to be celebrations of the Indigenous peoples of Canada.
“They’re co-opting an identity that allows them to move into those spaces and start harnessing what benefits them from having that identity,” said Diane Hellson, an Indigenous musician who performs as Mama Rude Gyal.
A 2021 City of Vancouver staff reconciliation paper to council members lists Michelle Heyoka alongside a number of Indigenous artists who have received grants from the Vancouver Music Fund.
In a statement, the City of Vancouver told CTV News it was “aware of this evolving story and will consider next steps in due course.”
“The city understands the importance of ensuring that funds intended for Indigenous peoples are distributed appropriately,” the statement said.
Recently, many people have been accused of impersonation, including prominent lawyer Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond and Carrie Bourassa, a university health professor.
Following Bourassa’s dismissal from his position at the University of Saskatchewan after the allegations surfaced, Vancouver Indigenous rights lawyer Jean Teillet wrote a report on Indigenous identity fraud for the university.
“It’s happening everywhere. We’re watching these revelations pop up and these revelations are just the tip of the iceberg,” Teillet said. “There are tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of people doing this.”
Late on Sunday, after the departure of staff from the Britannia Community Center, Wright gave an impromptu performance in Grandview Park and shared videos of her singing on social media.
She declined to be interviewed by CTV News, but provided a screenshot of what she says is a DNA test showing she is 49.7% “East Asian and Native American.”
The screenshot did not contain any information identifying the company that allegedly performed the test and did not provide a detailed breakdown of Wright’s ethnicity.
She insists that she is indigenous to the Americas, although she acknowledges that she has no ties to any indigenous nations or communities in Canada.
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