Indianz.Com > News > Criminal charges announced in Indigenous identity fraud case
Iqaluit, Nunavut
A stop sign in Iqaluit, Nunavut, in English and Inuktitut. Photo: Angela
Criminal charges announced in Indigenous identity fraud case
Thursday, September 21, 2023

Criminal charges have been laid against three family members who lied about their Indigenous identity for personal and monetary gain, authorities in Canada announced.

Karima Manji, 59, and her twin daughters, Amira Gill and Nadya Gill, both 25, committed fraud while claiming to be Inuit, according to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). The family members are accused of defrauding Inuit organizations of money to which they otherwise would not have been entitled, the law enforcement agency said in a news release on Thursday.

“The women used this Inuit beneficiary status to defraud the Kakivak Association and Qikiqtani Inuit Association of funds that are only available to Inuit beneficiaries by obtaining grants and scholarships,” the release from the RCMP in Iqaluit, the capital of Nunavut, a self-governing Inuit territory in Canada.

Note by Indianz.Com on Substack
A note by Indianz.Com on Substack links to the RCMP press release about Amira Gill, Nadya Gill and Karima Manji.

According to the RCMP, Manji and the Gill twins have been charged with two counts each of fraud over $5,000. Under the criminal code in Canada, each could face up to 14 years in prison if found guilty in court.

The three women have been scheduled to appear on October 30 in court in Iqaluit. That’s more than 2,300 kilometers, or nearly 1,500 miles, from Toronto, the capital of the province of Ontario, which is where the RCMP said the family members are based.

The announcement comes five months after the Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. (NTI), the parent entity of the Kakivak Association and Qikiqtani Inuit Association, asked the RCMP to investigate Manji and the Gill twins. The Inuit organization is hailing the charges against the trio, calling it not only a matter of self-governance, but an affirmation of the Canadian government’s commitment to the agreement that created the territory of Nunavut.

“Inuit identity is a matter of profound cultural significance, deeply embedded in the tapestry of Inuit culture, history, and way of life. It transcends mere paperwork or formal documentation and is rooted in shared traditions, languages, and the legacy of ancestors,” Aluki Kotierk, the president of NTI said in a news release on Thursday.

“Inuit identity is intimately linked to the land, the stories passed down through generations, and the customs that define their way of life,” said Kotierk. “It encompasses the knowledge of traditions, use of languages, and the appreciation of customs that truly define Inuit individuals.”

In April, the NTI announced the results of an internal investigation into the Gill sisters and their mother. The organization determined that Manji represented that she had been adopted by an Inuit couple in Iqaluit but was unable to substantiate her claim. Before that, she had successfully claimed Amira and Nadya were the biological daughters of an Inuk woman, which resulted in their enrollment in the NTI.

Inuk is the term used to refer to an individual who belongs to the Inuit people.

The NTI gave Amira and Nadya and opportunity to respond after the guardian of the Inuk woman came forward and said the woman had no biological connection to the twins. “No response was received,” the organization said at the time, which resulted in the Gills being removed from enrollment — the first case of its kind since the Nunavut Agreement was signed some 30 years ago.

Nadya Gill and Amira Gill
A spring 2021 newsletter from Indspire features Nadya Gill and Amira Gill, who were identified as belonging to Nunavut Tunngavik. Source: Indspire

But it’s not just the Inuit people in Nunavut that have been impacted by the false claims of the family. According to Indspire, Amira Gill and Nadya Gill received funds from the Indigenous-led nationwide charity to attend college — based solely on their enrollment in the NTI.

Since the NTI has determined the Gills’ enrollment to be fraudulent, the sisters do not qualify for the Indspire’s Building Brighter Futures: Bursaries, Scholarships and Awards program. The organization has asked Amira and Nadya to return “all funds” they received through deceit.

“Indspire continues to work closely with NTI throughout this process as well as with law enforcement as required,” the organization said in July.

Indspire has not publicly stated how much money the Gill sisters received. Two of the organization’s recent annual reports have listed “Amira Gill” as a recipient of the “Soaring Future Bursary.”

Amira Gill
Amira Gill appears in a screenshot of a CTV news story from April 21, 2021. The Kanata Trade Co. website and social media account mentioned in the news story are no longer available.

But the sisters made no secret of telling the public how they have benefited from their fraudulent enrollment status. In an interview with CTV, the Canadian Television Network, in April 2021, Amira Gill said she and her sister received money from Indspire to pay for their schooling at Queen’s University in Toronto.

“I would probably not be where I am currently if I didn’t have that support,” Amira said in the interview.

Other posts from online sources, as well as a spring 2021 newsletter from Indspire, highlighted the Gill sisters participation in the scholarship program. The latter document identified the twins as being “Nunavut Tunngavik” — meaning NTI.

Additional reporting by APTN, the Aboriginal People’s Television Network, showed that the sisters took immediate advantage of their enrollment in NTI back in 2016. By the next year, Amira had begun receiving scholarships based on her fraudulent status, APTN reported on Thursday.

As for the twins’ mother, Karima Manji was the subject of a criminal case that immediately preceded the NTI enrollment scam. In 2015, she was charged with defrauding the March of Dimes charity of $800,000, CBC News reported at the time.

A media release from the Toronto Police Service said “there may be other victims” of Manji’s alleged criminal behavior. No further information is immediately available online about the status of the case.

In the news release on Thursday, NTI said it is taking steps to strengthen the enrollment process. While such decisions are made at the local level, the Inuit organization is recommending that all applicants submit a long-form birth certificate. If one cannot be provided, additional documents of community belonging are being requested.

“NTI remains committed to preserving the integrity of Inuit enrolment [sic] and ensuring that only those who genuinely meet the criteria are enrolled,” the release stated. “These measures are essential in maintaining the cultural heritage and identity of the Nunavut Inuit community.”

Still, the NTI considers enrollment fraud cases like those of the Gill sisters to be rare. While Nunavut is a vast territory that is home to more than 40,000 people — the overwhelming majority of them being Inuit — the community is close-knit, and most people know each other and their backgrounds.

Stories in the Nunatsiaq News underscore the close nature of the community. In early April, the publication identified the Inuit family to which Manji claimed her daughters were connected. The son of the Inuk woman who was said to be the biological mother of the Gill twins later posted a public statement that supported the investigation into the alleged fraud.

“It is harmful to Indigenous communities to claim and benefit from falsely claiming Indigenous identity,” Noah Noah said in the April 4 statement.

Noah described his mother as being a “vulnerable person who may have been exploited” as a result of the situation. He further pointed out that while Manji was known to his family, they had no knowledge of her daughters.

The primary language of Nunavut is Inuktitut, which is one of the Inuit languages spoken in Canada, Greenland and Alaska in the United States.