An academic organization dedicated to the study of Native Americans issued a statement this week urging colleges and universities to stop hiring garden-variety white people who fraudulently claim to have indigenous, tribal heritages.
The statement by the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association was obtained by Inside Higher Education on Tuesday.
“Issues of indigenous identity are complex,” the NAISA statement says. “Hundreds of years of ongoing colonialism around the world have contributed to this complexity. However, such complexity does not mean that there are no ethical considerations in claiming indigenous identity or relationships with particular indigenous peoples. To falsely claim such belonging is indigenous identity fraud.”
The group’s statement calls on faculty members to be truthful about their ancestry and their relationships — if any — with Native American groups or other ethnic groups. When would-be professors lie about their ethnicity, NAISA argues, it’s a form of deceitful appropriation.
“In no way are we implying that one must be indigenous in order to undertake Native American and Indigenous Studies,” the statement explains. “We are simply stating that we must be honest about our identity claims, whatever our particular positionalities. Belonging does not arise simply from individual feelings — it is not simply who you claim to be, but also who claims you.”
“[W]e are all responsible to act in an ethical fashion by standing against indigenous identity fraud,” the statement implores.
The problem of job applicants fraudulently claiming some ethnic affiliation in order to get hired or to help a school meet some diversity quota is a huge problem in academia, Inside Higher Ed notes.
This summer, for example, former Spokane NAACP president Rachel Dolezal was outed for pretending for years to be black for years (and claiming to be the target of at least nine hate crime incidents) even though, in reality, she was born — in Montana — to white parents of Central European and Scandinavian heritage. (RELATED: Why CAN’T Rachel Dolezal Be Black?)
Academic fraud artists claiming some fake heritage most frequently claim to be Native Americans, however.
Inside Higher Ed mentions three potential charlatans of recent vintage: Ward Churchill, Andrea Smith and Susan Taffe Reed.
Churchill is a former University of Colorado ethnic studies professor who claimed in an otherwise obscure essay that the United States deserved the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks because of “ongoing genocidal American imperialism.” He has claimed to be have directly descended from Creek and Cherokee Indians. However, a Denver newspaper’s very extensive search of Churchill’s genealogy failed to turn up a single Native American ancestor. (RELATED: Ward Churchill Is Finally All Out Of Aces)
Smith, a media studies professor at University of California, Riverside, and Taffe Reed, director of the Native American Program at Dartmouth College, both claim to be Indians despite evidence that they are posers who have no tribal affiliation. (Taffe Reed really plays up the Indian look with ridiculous earrings and long, braided hair.)
Strangely, Inside Higher Ed fails to mention Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren who falsely claimed Native American heritage when applying to teach at both the University of Pennsylvania Law School and Harvard Law School. The graduate of Rutgers School of Law–Newark described herself as a Native American minority in professional law school directories during the 1980s and ’90s. (RELATED: Elizabeth Warren Still Scrambling To Explain Her Native American Minority Claim)
Harvard later cited her presence at Harvard as evidence of its faculty’s impressive diversity. Warren claimed that she knew about her family’s alleged Indian heritage because a relative told her that her “papaw” had “high cheekbones, like all of the Indians do.” (RELATED: Elizabeth Warren Whines About Coverage Of Her Fraudulent Indian Claim)
America’s professoriate is torn on whether to stop giving jobs to fraudulent white hucksters such as Warren, according to Inside Higher Ed.
University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee English professor Michael Wilson warned that any attempt by college and university officials to identify fake Indians could be problematic if it relies only on federal Indian registries and fails to take into account “the story” of a would-be professor’s life.
At Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kan. where the student population is 100 percent Native American, school president and Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation member Venida Chenault said every applicant’s name is simply verified with a federal database.
“I think it’s offensive when an individual claims the privilege of being native but has no sense of responsibility or integrity in terms of fulfilling any commitment to a tribe,” Chenault told Inside Higher Ed. “Otherwise it’s simply a box they check.”
University of Houston bureaucrat Richard A. Baker disagreed.
“It would be a big step backward for institutions to begin verifying or certifying employees’ self-identified race or ethnicity,” the assistant vice chancellor told Inside Higher Ed. “If someone self-identifies their gender, we do not make them prove it — we take them at their word.”