The Great Pretenders

Karima Manji wanted it all for her twin daughters, Amira and Nadya. And she found a way to help them get it: financial aid earmarked for Indigenous kids. The fact that they weren’t remotely Indigenous wasn’t going to stop her

Amira and Nadya Gill were well-known on the Queen’s University campus. The ambitious twins seemed to excel at everything they did. Amira was pursuing her master’s in civil engineering, and she was a reservist in the Canadian Armed Forces. Nadya, a former NCAA soccer player, juggled her duties as an assistant coach for the women’s soccer team with law school, and she was an associate editor for the Queen’s Law Journal, a board member for the school’s student law society and co-host of a legal podcast. Throughout their studies, they won a number of awards and scholarships. And everyone knew they were Indigenous, a status they wore with pride.

Amira spent much of her spare time on a dorm floor dedicated to Indigenous students. During Indigenous awareness events, she was front and centre at various activities and seminars, wearing her purple varsity jacket and helping to educate her fellow students. She could be angry too, sometimes complaining bitterly about “the white man” and the destruction wrought on her people.

Nadya rarely joined her sister in such public conversations about the Indigenous experience—although she benefited just as much from their professed Indigeneity. One summer, she attended the University of Saskatchewan’s Indigenous Law Centre program. Her placement was paid for by a grant from Indspire, a national charity that helps fund education for First Nations, Inuit and Métis students.

But an acquaintance who spent time with both sisters at Queen’s remembers some details that didn’t quite make sense. Amira enjoyed her classmates’ attention and often sought the spotlight. She frequently bragged about her family’s wealth and how her parents paid for her many expenses, though the friend never saw those wealthy parents on campus. Amira liked to jangle her Tiffany bracelet in front of the younger students, but otherwise she owned no designer clothes, rare sneakers or shiny tech. Plus, both sisters were residence dons, a role usually filled by kids who need financial support: dons get free room and board in exchange for their duties.

Related: A crooked cop, a dead man and an $800,000 estate fraud

Other inconsistencies also struck their classmates as odd. Amira often spoke about the importance of trust and credibility in a student leader like herself, yet one former classmate remembers her applying for emergency benefits during the pandemic despite her family wealth. She was sure the government would never ask for it back, she said, so why not? It seemed like easy money.

The twins may have been fiercely proud of their Indigenous identity, but neither sister spoke in much detail about their heritage. Some of their scholarships and awards identified them as Inuit. But where in Nunavut were they born? What was life like back home? When did they leave and come to Ontario? What traditions did they observe? When asked, the twins would say something about their connection to the North being through their mother and then artfully change the subject. If anyone found their secretive attitude strange, few thought to call them out on it. And for years nobody—not fellow students, not teachers, not the organizations that gave them thousands of dollars in Indigenous grants—suspected the truth.


In all of the Gill sisters’ lies, there was one kernel of truth: their mother, Karima Manji, had lived in Iqaluit in the early 1990s. Manji, a slender woman with a heart-shaped face and large eyes, was born in Tanzania and came to Canada as a child. In her 20s, she went north to work for Frobisher Development Limited, a residential and commercial real estate company now known as Nunastar. One of her colleagues was Harry Hughes, a single father who had seven children with a woman named Kitty Noah. He and Noah were separated, and Hughes and Manji soon started dating.

Noah Noah is one of Hughes’s sons and the eldest of his children with Kitty. He was 10 years old when he first met Manji, and he remembers her as cold, controlling and prone to angry outbursts. When Noah was 11, his father was hospitalized in Iqaluit with bone marrow cancer. Manji was adamant that no one else visit Hughes—not even his children or his best friend. She frequently tended to the children and seemed to resent them. Noah remembers her telling Hughes that he and his kids “belonged in the sewer.”

Hughes and Manji’s relationship was strained and short-lived. In 1992, Hughes left the North and relocated his family to Horseshoe Valley, Ontario, in search of better opportunities for his children. Manji moved as well, but to Toronto. Though no longer together, the two kept in touch right up until Hughes’s death, in 1997, at age 57. After that, Noah, then 17, lost touch with Manji and assumed he would never hear from—or about—her again.

Manji started life anew in the GTA, where she met and married a man named Gurmail Gill, the vice-president of a spring manufacturer in Mississauga. Gill’s family came from India, and he had British citizenship. Together, he and Manji lived in a tidy bungalow on a street lined with mature trees in Etobicoke. The couple welcomed their first child, a boy they named Liam. At home, Manji rarely spoke in detail about her time in Iqaluit, and understandably so: it had been only a blip in a life that started in Tanzania and would play out in Toronto.

When Liam was a toddler, Manji began working for March of Dimes Canada, a non-profit housing corporation that provides shelter and care for people with disabilities. As a part-time property manager, Manji conferred with tenants, ordered equipment and ensured repairs were made. Her colleagues liked her and believed that the organization’s tenants did too. Manji came across as capable and unflappable. If a tenant was challenging, or if someone couldn’t keep up with their rent, everyone trusted Manji to take care of it.

She also cultivated the image of a thriving home life and bragged about renovating her house. They needed the space: Manji was pregnant again, this time with twin girls. The office celebrated with a baby shower. Manji spoke glowingly of her marriage, but behind the scenes, the couple’s relationship was rocky. They fought often and separated more than once. In September, Manji gave birth to Nadya and Amira. Over the years that followed, the three Gill children grew to resemble their parents: dark skin and hair, large round eyes and wide smiles.

The Great Pretenders: How two faux-Inuit sisters cashed in on a life of deception
Amira and Nadya Gill went to high school in Etobicoke. Amira excelled in math, and Nadya became a sports superstar

The twins excelled in school and, in 2011, began Grade 9 at Michael Power–St. Joseph High School, in Etobicoke. While there, they participated in a government-funded exchange program that allowed non-Indigenous city kids to immerse themselves in the lives of an Indigenous community. Pinehouse is a village of about 1,000 people, five hours north of Saskatoon. For a week, Amira, Nadya and a dozen of their fellow students were billeted by the locals, attending class and being introduced to Métis and Cree culture. I spoke to two students who participated in the program, and neither remembers either sister mentioning, publicly or privately, any Indigenous connections.

No one I spoke to remembers them mentioning it as they moved through high school either. Mostly, Nadya was focused on sports. In 2013, her team won silver at an international youth soccer tournament in Jamaica. The next year, she represented Canada at the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in Costa Rica. In 2015, at age 16, she received a scholarship to Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Connecticut, and was among the youngest NCAA athletes to play soccer. While Nadya excelled on the field, Amira set her sights on the classroom. She left home the same year as her sister and headed to Queen’s to study engineering. Liam, meanwhile, was in the UK studying at Durham University. None of the Gill children were living at home when ­Manji’s lies caught up with her.

In the summer of 2015, a March of Dimes employee noticed something strange: two packages—a fridge and a barbecue—delivered to one of the apartment buildings the organization managed had been redirected to Manji’s home. The organization investigated her purchases and discovered a series of odd transactions. Manji had bought several big-ticket items on behalf of the charity, returned them and pocketed the refunds. In some cases, she’d simply bought expensive items for herself. ­Manji’s bosses contacted a lawyer, then the police. They fired her, and March of Dimes demanded she repay $25,000. She refused, claimed innocence and lawyered up. Her former employers, expecting contrition and a quick resolution, were puzzled by her response and decided to launch a full forensic investigation.

Related: Meet the most charming fraudster in GTA real estate

The results were shocking. For years, Manji had been over-ordering anything and everything—Christmas turkeys, supplies from hardware stores, ­refrigerators—so she could return the extras and keep the cash. The organization also discovered she’d been bullying tenants to pay for repairs and other necessities that the organization was supposed to cover, and then keeping the money intended to pay those bills. Over the years, she’d bilked the organization not for $25,000, as originally estimated, but for $800,000. In November of 2015, police arrested Manji, then age 50. They charged her with fraud, forgery, theft and possession of property obtained by crime. Her family would have seen the extensive news coverage and Manji’s grim mugshot published alongside each article.

In 2016, Manji was given a conditional sentence and ordered to serve two years under house arrest. She and Gill separated again, this time for good. She got a minimum-wage job at a dry cleaner’s and moved into an apartment in the back. March of Dimes recouped some money from their insurance company, and Manji repaid more than $500,000—even selling some of the family’s furniture to come up with the cash. But, rather than being chastened after getting caught, Manji seemed as emboldened as ever. She was still under house arrest when she hatched her next swindle. This time, she’d need to involve her daughters.


The “pretendian” phenomenon in Canada can be traced back to at least the 1930s, when Archibald Stansfeld Belaney donned leathers, renamed himself Grey Owl and began telling people his mother was Apache. He used his new identity to amass fame and fortune as an Indigenous author and conservationist. But the term itself didn’t gain traction in Canada until late 2016, when Indigenous journalists started pointing out the inconsistencies in bestselling author Joseph Boyden’s proclaimed Indigenous roots. Today, it’s used to broadly describe fakers who claim to be Indigenous but aren’t. (Some Inuit also use the term “pretenduit” as a way to address the specific co-opting of their heritage and culture.)

The list of high-profile Canadians busted for faking Indigenous identities has grown alarmingly long in recent years and includes academics, judges, professors and cultural icons. In October 2021, a CBC investigation revealed that Carrie Bourassa, a University of Saskatchewan professor, had falsely claimed to be Métis, Anishinaabe and Tlingit. In 2022, media raised questions about former judge Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond’s purported Cree ancestry; she has maintained her ­Indigeneity but later lost her Order of Canada, among other awards. Last year, Memorial University removed Vianne Timmons from her role as the school’s president after a CBC report challenged her claims of Mi’kmaw heritage. And in one of the most explosive revelations to date, The Fifth Estate reported last October that 82-year-old singer and activist Buffy Sainte-Marie had lied about being a Cree survivor of the Sixties Scoop.

The problem is especially prevalent in Canadian academia, where the allure of money and status runs high. Universities have been under pressure to increase Indigenous student admissions—as of 2021, only 13 per cent of Indigenous people of working age had a university degree—and hire more Indigenous faculty. In their rush to boost their numbers, many institutions have overlooked the potential for scammers. Jean Teillet is a recently retired Métis lawyer in Vancouver who has worked on Indigenous-identity fraud cases. In the wake of the Bourassa scandal, the University of Saskatchewan hired Teillet to write a report on Indigenous-identity fraud, complete with recommendations on how to spot it. While some institutions are now introducing mechanisms to confirm membership in a recognized nation, including the presentation of official status documents, Teillet found that, for many applicants, claiming Indigeneity is as easy as ticking off a box. Universities are largely ignorant about the complexities of Indigenous identity, and they’re either too gullible or willfully blind to dubious claims.

There are two kinds of fraudsters, according to Teillet: fabricators who invent Indigenous identities whole cloth and embellishers who exaggerate some perceived connection. Some embellishers bolster their claims using the results of DNA tests showing small percentages of Indigenous heritage. Others exploit unverified family stories about a distant Indigenous relative. Whatever kind of identity fraud they’re engaging in, they generally lie to get ahead professionally. Maybe they want an Indigenous award or grant or acceptance into networks that are closed to them. Such fraudsters exploit affirmative action initiatives or diversity, equity and inclusion protections, says Teillet. As an Indigenous applicant, the person could be accepted into law or medical school when they’d otherwise be rejected. And sometimes, the motivation is even simpler: “They want something that makes them unique and different, and this gives them a chance to say they’re special,” Teillet says.

Manji seemed to believe that her daughters were entitled to it all: the cash, the prizes, the attention. And she spied a potential pathway for them in her distant history in the North. Indigenous peoples in Canada are grouped into three categories: First Nations, Métis and Inuit. Each group has different processes for gaining status, enrolment or citizenship—as well as access to funding opportunities. Unlike First Nations people, Inuit and Métis are not entitled to registration under Canada’s Indian Act, which lays out certain educational, tax and other subsidies. They are, however, eligible for scholarships, bursaries, awards and additional assistance set aside for Indigenous people.

The Great Pretenders: How two faux-Inuit sisters cashed in on a life of deception
In Grade 9, the Gill twins visited Saskatchewan to participate in a program that teaches non-Indigenous students about Indigenous culture

For Inuit who are from Nunavut to access such assistance, they must be enrolled in the Nunavut Agreement of 1993, which recognizes the vast land as their traditional territory. Successful enrolment comes with certain rights, including the ability to vote in local elections, supplementary health benefits, the use of Inuit-owned lands, and—perhaps most importantly for Manji and her ­daughters—eligibility for various grants and bursaries. To gain enrolment, Inuit must apply through Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated, the organization responsible for ensuring that the terms of the Nunavut Agreement are carried out. The NTI requirements are fairly simple: the applicant must be a Canadian citizen, they must be Inuit according to Inuit practices and usages, and they must identify as Inuit. Those living outside of Nunavut can apply, as can those who’ve been adopted by non-Inuit parents.

Manji must have figured she would have a greater chance of success if she claimed that her girls were adopted. The Adopted Inuit Children form is a two-page document that asks for basic information about the applicant, their birth parents and their adoptive parents but does not require any specific supporting documentation. Manji filled out a form for each of her two daughters. On them, she claimed that she and Gill were Amira and Nadya’s adoptive parents—a blatant lie. Under “birth parent,” she wrote the name of a woman in Iqaluit.

The forms that come through the NTI are sent to community enrolment committees for review. Every community in Nunavut has a committee of Inuit who are residents of the area. These committees meet at least every six months to review the claims of those seeking status. The forms that come through the NTI are sent to community enrolment committees for review. They rely heavily on their own community ties and knowledge to assess the applications, and in the cases of adopted children, they may reach out to the listed birth parents.

Related: Inside a sophisticated identity theft scheme that may have conned Torontonians out of millions

Manji must have hoped no such attempt would be made, but she hit an unexpected snag: the woman she’d listed on the twins’ applications happened to be on the review committee. The applications were quickly rejected, but Manji was undeterred. In October 2016, just a month after Amira and Nadya turned 18, she filled out another set of applications requesting enrolment for her daughters. This time, she came up with a different name for their birth mother: Kitty Noah, the mother of Noah Noah and ex-partner of Harry Hughes.

The Great Pretenders: How two faux-Inuit sisters cashed in on a life of deception
Kitty Noah didn’t know Amira and Nadya Gill. That didn’t stop their mother from using Noah’s name to secure the girls’ Inuit enrolment. Photo courtesy of Noah Noah

At the time Manji submitted her second application, Kitty was homeless. For much of her life, Kitty had struggled with alcohol abuse, and she moved around frequently. At one point, she was living in a shack on a cold Iqaluit beach. Her situation worsened in 2006, when she was struck by a car and suffered a brain injury. Noah moved back to Iqaluit in 2007 and now works in Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada. He helped care for his mother through a guardianship, but she never fully recovered. “She had the mental capacity of a 16-year-old,” says Noah. “She couldn’t make a safe decision to save her life.”

Noah says the NTI later told him that members of the enrolment committee had tried to reach Kitty to confirm Manji’s claim but couldn’t. They didn’t reach out to him or any other members of the family. But the committee in Iqaluit did know that Kitty had what Noah called “a pile of children.” According to him, that—and the absence of any objection from Kitty—was enough to green-light Manji’s application.

It’s unlikely that Manji told her daughters they were Inuit by birth. After all, if she had suddenly dropped the thunderous news that they were adopted, surely the girls—and the rest of the Gill family—would have been puzzled. How to explain, say, photos of her pregnant with twin daughters? Or the striking resemblance they bore to the rest of their family? Or the fact that they didn’t look in any way Inuit? A source close to the family suspects the most likely theory is that, after living in Iqaluit and helping to raise Kitty Noah’s children, Manji felt she deserved the same benefits as any Inuk. And that concocted honorary status extended not only to her but to her daughters.

Amira cashed in first. In 2017, she won what was then called an Aboriginal Student Award from RBC to continue her undergraduate studies at Queen’s—­something she presumably would have had to apply for just months after her mother submitted the application for Inuit enrolment. The award was worth as much as $4,000 per year of post-­secondary education, and she was one of just 10 recipients—meaning an Indigenous student was almost certainly rejected. The bank gleefully promoted the honorees, producing a community handout with Amira’s headshot next to the word “Inuit.” Amira also won a Hydro One scholarship reserved for Indigenous students. The award—in recognition of a retired federal judge and leader in efforts to Indigenize Canada’s legal system—was worth $5,000, and only 15 were granted.

The process must have seemed so easy to Manji. She had claimed that her daughters were Inuit without providing a trace of proof, and it worked. So in 2018, she tried for herself, claiming that she, too, had been adopted by two Inuit from Iqaluit, but the claim was rejected.

During those first years of the twins’ new identities, Nadya got by on her athletic prowess alone. After completing a bachelor of science in business management at Quinnipiac, she moved on to West Virginia University, again on an athletic scholarship, where she completed a master’s of sports education. In 2019, she headed to Queen’s for law school. Though she was hired on as an assistant coach, she no longer had any sports scholarship money. Now, she also had a reason to benefit from her mother’s scam. In 2020 and 2021, both twins received bursaries from Indspire. With their enrolment cards in hand, a new world had opened to the Gill sisters.


As Amira and Nadya neared graduation and aged out of the grift that had kept them going for years, they transitioned from Inuit wunderkinds to inspiring Inuit entrepreneurs. In late 2020, Manji and her daughters started an online business, Kanata Trade Company, with Manji as CEO and the twins as the face of the brand. The company’s website described Nadya and Amira as “twin Inuit sisters.” Kanata sold goods designed by Indigenous artists and claimed that it planned to donate 100 per cent of its profits to Indspire, while retaining some cash “to grow our business and pay our staff.” An Indspire article commending the “dynamic sisters” noted that they wanted to give back to their community and help other Indigenous students. Kanata was even certified by the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business.

During the pandemic, the business first sold cloth masks printed with designs by Indigenous artists including Tracey Metallic, Francis Dick and Norval Morrisseau. Kanata didn’t work directly with the artists but instead bought the masks from a Scarborough-based wholesaler that licenses work from Indigenous artists and uses it to create a wide variety of goods, such as umbrellas and jigsaw puzzles. Soon, Kanata was also selling baby bibs, art cards and eco-friendly totes—all emblazoned with colourful depictions of animals, nature scenes or figures in traditional dress. Kanata’s website implored people to do the right thing, noting that Indigenous communities had been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. The Residence Society at Queen’s University bought 100 Kanata masks at a cost of $1,850. “I’m grateful,” Amira told the Queen’s Journal. “They contributed a large amount that’s going to help another Indigenous student go to University.”

The Great Pretenders: How two faux-Inuit sisters cashed in on a life of deception
Nadya Gill’s soccer skills earned her athletic scholarships. Once they ran out, she needed a new revenue stream. Photo courtesy of the Quinnipiac Chronicle

With Kanata, the Gill sisters had found not just a new source of income but a potentially prosperous twist in identity. They were no longer the beneficiaries of social programs, graciously accept­ing a leg up wherever it was offered. Now, they were the benefactors—20-something entrepreneurs using their education and personal experience to give back. They hustled around this new persona, appearing in media interviews to promote their venture. In July of 2021, they participated in a “Coffee, Career and Conversation” session with other ambitious young panellists, hosted by the United Nations Association’s young entrepreneurs program.

Just as she had during their time at Queen’s, Amira leaned harder than Nadya into this new role. In May of 2021, she appeared on Soul Sister Conversations, a podcast about connecting with one’s “authentic self,” after reaching out to the host, Dana Lloyd. A poised Amira said that she and Nadya hoped to use their business to inspire Indigenous students to finish their post-secondary education. She expressed gratitude for the help they’d received from Indspire and credited the non-profit with being responsible for their “fulfilling” post-secondary experience. Not only had Indspire provided scholarship money, she stressed, but its staff had regularly checked in with the twins to help them feel, as Amira put it, safe and at home.

When asked, she explained that the sisters named their company Kanata because it’s “a native word for Canada,” repeating a common misunderstanding. (Kanata is an Iroquoian word for “village”; the leading theory is that early colonizers wrongly assumed it to be the name for the nation to which they had arrived.) Amira noted that their business was also trying to shine light on what she called “the missing and murdered Indigenous women aspect.” Throughout the interview, she said nothing of her own experiences as a young Inuit woman. When referring to Indigenous students and communities, she used “they,” never “we.” Near the end, Lloyd asked her how Kanata brought her closer to her authentic self—a clear prompt to share her experiences as an Indigenous person. Instead, Amira said that she’s the kind of person who likes to give back.

The Great Pretenders: How two faux-Inuit sisters cashed in on a life of deception
Amira graduated from Queen’s in 2021 with a master’s in civil engineering. Nadya followed the next year, with a law degree. Photo via Instagram

Soon, word of the extraordinary Gill sisters began to reach Inuit circles on social media­—and many found the twins’ story more far-fetched than inspiring. Because the mechanisms—and motivation—for detecting Indigenous-identity fraudsters are so lacking in Canadian institutions, Indigenous people often take up the task of weeding out fakers themselves. They do most of their sleuthing online, monitoring supposed Indigenous businesses and individuals for suspicious claims of ancestry. They’re usually looking for shifting or contradictory accounts of heritage, and when they find them, they share their evidence on social media—sometimes with one another and sometimes directly confronting the suspected fraudster. By late 2021, a number of Indigenous sleuths were growing suspicious of the Gill sisters. Canada’s Inuit population is small—just 70,000. If these sisters who seemed to be taking on the world were, in fact, Inuit, how was it possible that no one else in Inuit circles had any connection to them, or had even heard of them before now?

One of these amateur detectives was Barbara Akoak, an artist in Iqaluit who goes by “Inuk Barbie” online. “I immediately knew they were fake,” she said after seeing a CTV story about Kanata. Their impressive academic pursuits, as described in the article, would have been the talk of Iqaluit. “We all know who wants to go to law school before they go to law school,” she said. When Akoak did a little digging, she found the Indspire brochure touting the twins’ accomplishments. But instead of identifying their community, their people, they were simply identified as “Nunavut Tunngavic.” It was more than odd, thought Akoak, that someone would claim to be from an Inuit organization.

Posts from her and other Inuit skeptical of the twins’ claims eventually reached Gabriel Zarate, a former freelance journalist in Nunavut who’d left the territory in 2012 and was friendly with Akoak. Zarate started doing some digging of his own. He quickly found an online sports biography for Nadya, claiming her birthplace as Mississauga. The more he read about the twins, the more their stories didn’t add up. So he began to respond to social media posts about the twins, hoping to pressure them into revealing the truth.

On October 14, 2021, he replied to a tweet that recommended Kanata’s masks, remarking: “Owned by non-Indigenous who are faking it.” On December 22, 2021, he replied to a tweet promoting Amira’s Soul Sister appearance: “Nadya and Amira Gill are fraudsters taking advantage of the white inability to tell brown folks apart. They aren’t Indigenous, they are Punjabi-Canadian.” And on February 16, 2022, he posted: “Kanata Trade Co. bills themselves as Inuit-owned. It is a lie.” Six months later, Zarate reached out to the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business and informed them of his suspicions. He received a stern rebuff. “Amira has provided us with her Inuit beneficiary card so she must have Inuit ancestry on one side of her family,” read the message. “People are not able to get a government issued card unless they’re able to provide the government with a great deal of information.”

The sleuths were now watching the twins’ every public move. In September 2022, Nadya travelled to Norway to play soccer. On her social media, she posted a picture of a boarding pass and a British passport—presumably a connection to her father. That picture became more grist for the online rumour mill. Akoak re-posted the image on her Facebook, laughing at the idea that Nadya could be Inuit with a British passport. Online, more and more Indigenous people began asking questions about the twins’ identity. Inuit throat singer Tanya Tagaq asked which community, if any, could claim them.

Online sleuths began tweeting about the twins. “Nadya and Amira Gill are taking advantage of the white inability to tell brown folks apart,” read one post

As the scrutiny intensified, the girls’ online presence changed. Kanata’s website, which had called the girls Inuit, was edited to read “Indigenous owned.” It was too late. In March of 2023, Akoak contacted the sisters via Instagram and asked which band the Gill sisters belonged to and whether they were truly Indigenous. Someone using the Kanata Instagram account—it’s unclear whether it was one of the sisters or their mother—responded that the twins were originally from Iqaluit but that the details were “a long story.” They ended with a plea: “I hope you can respect our personal lives and also know that we don’t keep a cent for any personal gain.” Later, in July, APTN journalist Danielle Paradis confirmed that Kanata had made a donation of at least $5,000 to Indspire, although the sisters and their mother have kept quiet about how much total revenue the business earned.

By then, the twins were in their 20s and would have had many opportunities to question their own purported ties to Inuit culture. If their mother led them to believe they held legal status in the North, weren’t they curious about the specifics? And if they were benefiting so richly, wasn’t it incumbent upon them to understand exactly why? The two young women had travelled in enough Indigenous circles to be familiar with the harm caused by false claims of Indigeneity. Publicly, they offered vague answers, likely hoping it would all blow over—a lot was riding on their appropriated identities.

In addition to running Kanata, Nadya was articling at Durant Barristers. The firm has offices in Toronto, among other cities, and its practice areas include Indigenous and sports law. Nadya’s apparent Inuit status was nowhere to be found on her public company bio. Amira was working as a technical specialist at Defence Construction Canada, a Crown corporation that delivers security-linked infrastructure projects. Just as they had finally arrived—young professionals with impressive early careers—everything they’d accomplished was at risk of falling apart. The lie had metastasized, drawing in doubters, threatening to ruin them.


In late March of 2023, the online investigation reached one of Kitty Noah’s actual daughters, who called her brother Noah Noah and told him that people were talking about their mom on Facebook. His heart sank as he read through a series of posts about twin girls he’d never heard of but who claimed they were his mother’s biological daughters. Later that day, a representative from NTI reached out to Noah and asked him if he knew the twins. He confirmed that he didn’t, then asked who had filed the application. The NTI representative uttered a name he hadn’t heard in more than two decades: Karima Manji. He and his siblings had been relieved when she finally left their lives. And now she was back. Of course it was Karima, he thought. Who else would have been so brazen?

On March 30, 2023, soon after NTI called Noah, it released a public statement announcing that it had become aware of potentially fraudulent enrolment involving Manji and her daughters. The organization acknowledged that it had—finally—spoken to Kitty Noah, the Inuit woman listed as the twins’ birth mother, and that she and her family had indicated that the two girls were not her children. Later that same day, a reporter named Jeff Pelletier broke the story in the Nunatsiaq News.

Pelletier reached out to Amira, who responded via email, the only time she’s publicly addressed the accusations. She said that her and her sister’s “Inuit family ties” were related to their mother’s time in the North and that the sisters’ relationship with their parents was strained. Amira took pains to enumerate the good deeds the sisters had done. She boasted that she and Nadya were integral parts of the community in Kingston, where they’d gone to university, and that Kanata had begun as a temporary project to help Indspire but that the charity had asked them to continue their work after two months of success. She claimed that she and her sister had received their NTI enrolment cards “at a young age” and that they had “no knowledge of the enrolment process.” To her mind, they were victims, being “attacked online by extremist individuals.”

Her comments read like a desperate attempt to amplify the twins’ virtues while circumventing the truth. Shortly after Pelletier’s article was published, Durant placed Nadya on leave, pending investigation, and Amira was fired from her job at Defence Construction Canada. Their older brother, Liam, who was by then working as a lawyer and start-up coach, began responding to comments on social media. He confirmed that he and his sisters shared the same biological parents and that his sisters were not adopted. He added that his family had many issues beyond those in the news and that he had moved away at his earliest opportunity as a result.

In early April, the Noah family released a statement in which they confirmed that they knew Karima Manji but stressed that they and Kitty had no knowledge of Amira or Nadya. “Our mother is a vulnerable person who may have been exploited,” it reads. “It is our priority at this time to protect her dignity and to support our family, as this has been an unexpected and stressful experience.” They called upon the RCMP and the various Indigenous organizations that had provided funding to the Gill twins to investigate. “Our family has not asked to be part of this conversation, but we have been brought into it. We are seeking truth, justice and accountability.”

The Gill sisters claimed that they had “no knowledge of the enrolment process.” To Amira’s mind, they were victims, being “attacked by extremist individuals”

On April 13, NTI declared that it had removed Amira and Nadya from the Inuit enrolment list pending investigation. It described the situation as unprecedented and said that it had given the Gill sisters 30 days to respond to a set of questions. Indspire followed with a statement indicating that it was working closely with NTI to figure out the truth. Within a week of NTI’s announcement, the RCMP announced that it would follow up on requests to investigate the twins.

Over the following days and weeks, the Gill sisters scrubbed their online presence. They took down both the Kanata site and Nadya’s podcast and deleted their social media accounts. Manji, however, was apparently undeterred. In July, APTN journalist Danielle Paradis reported that a website called HOIF Trading Post had appeared online with a near-identical business model to Kanata. Its “About Us” page attributed the venture to “a group of friends in their senior years.” HOIF named only one of those friends: Ernest Ouimet—a man of Métis heritage who prefers to see himself as “more of an ally to Indigenous people.” Paradis, trying to ­confirm Ouimet’s identity and any connection to Kanata, discovered corporate records for HOIF listing both Amira Gill and Karima Manji as proprietors. And before it went offline, Kanata posted an announcement saying it was in the process of transferring the business to Ouimet.

The same month HOIF went live, Kitty Noah died in Nunavut from lung cancer. Noah Noah says she never fully grasped what was going on or the severity of the situation. But she did know that she hadn’t given birth to the twins.

Finally, on September 14, the Iqaluit RCMP charged the twins and their mother with two counts each of fraud. Investigators alleged that the three women had received nearly $160,000 from the Kakivak Association and Qikiqtani Inuit Association, both of which are located in Iqaluit and provide grants and scholarships to Inuit. Neither the twins nor their mother have personally appeared at any of their court dates in Iqaluit, and as of late January, none of the allegations against them had been proven in court, nor had they entered pleas. When reached, Manji’s lawyer, J. Scott Cowan, declined to comment on the case. Amira’s lawyer, Alan Brass, did not respond to multiple requests for comment but previously told media that his client “maintains her innocence.” Nadya was representing herself.

After being fired from her engineering job, Amira is now working in the back room of a department store, doing inventory. The source I spoke to who is close to the family told me that the sisters were no longer speaking to their mother. “They definitely feel she did this to them,” the source said. Maybe Manji did tell her daughters that they were entitled to Inuit enrolment thanks to her connections to the North. Maybe they even believed her, despite her track record. But Amira and Nadya were smart, talented, ambitious and capable of understanding the implications of their claims to Inuit identity. And they still perpetuated and benefited from a narrative of overcoming adversity—even though that adversity never existed.

This story originally appeared in the March 2024 issue of Toronto Life magazine. On February 8, after it went to press, Karima Manji pleaded guilty to fraud and, according to her lawyer, J. Scott Cowan, “took full responsibility for the matters at hand.” As a result, the Crown dropped all charges against Amira and Nadya Gill. An agreed statement of facts entered into the court confirmed that Manji gave birth to her twin daughters in Mississauga in September of 1998. She admitted to claiming that Kitty Noah was her daughters’ birth mother in order to fraudulently obtain their NTI enrolment cards. According to the statement of facts, Amira and Nadya were unaware the cards were fraudulent. Manji is scheduled to be sentenced in June. NTI has called the withdrawal of charges against the twins “unacceptable.” In a statement, the organization’s president, Aluki Kotierk, said, “A family’s privacy, peace, and dignity has been affected because of the actions of these three women. The two daughters benefitted from their mother’s fraud scheme, and yet their role in the scheme will go unanswered.”

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