Andrea Smith

Some of the posts about the Andrea Smith, is she or isn't she Cherokee issue.

My thoughts on this are currently larger than my energy level to write or type. Today was a long day, with plenty of things happening and so I'm not sure I could tackle a topic like this right now. There are ways that this brushes up against Chamorro issues, but also ways that I see this as being distinct and a facet of Native American life, the ways that they determine authenticity, the sources and forces in which it is formed.


Why Realness Fails Us in Native Studies

Chris Finley

In the shadow of the Rachel Dolezal scandal, mostly non-Cherokee Indigenous academics have raised an alarm about Andy Smith’s identity once again.  I want to point out that it is mostly tenured faculty that are doing this.  I want to know why you have an investment in Andy’s identity in particular.  Indian identity has always been heavily policed.  Usually it was the settlers trying to undo us, but in this case, it is ourselves.  This is the part that makes me truly sick.  There isn’t a settler in sight but there is a massacre occurring.  It isn’t only Andy who is hurt and scared by this discussion.  I know if my identity was held up to a microscope or even a magnifying glass, I would fail spectacularly.  I don’t speak my language, I don’t make it home much, I don’t eat venison because I’m a vegetarian (total Indigenous failure!), I don’t even like camping, I haven’t had sexual relations with an Indian in over 5 years, and I never wear turquoise jewelry.  Sure, I’m enrolled, but as an Indigenous person my identity is always scrutinized and measured.  (People often ask me for my blood quantum or specific questions about my cultural practices.)  As a Native woman, my identity and civility are always under attack.  Native men in the academy do not have their identities and work scrutinized as much as Native women do.

Andy Smith has done more for Indigenous people than I ever will and this is not because I think she blocked me but I just never had the energy she had to dedicate every waking moment to ending oppression.  To me the question or desire should not be for a self-confession from Andy about what went wrong or what she is or is not, because I think her actions speak louder than that.  My desire is for Indigenous people to stop tearing each other apart and to stop attacking someone who really tried to do some good.  Why didn’t so many people call out Kevin Costner when he was adopted by the Rosebud Nation and then built a casino and that was not about sovereignty or decolonization.  I tell you, I saw Andy go through her tenure battle at Michigan and the institution would have never treated a white woman that way, but it most certainly would have done so to a Native feminist.

Settlers have an interest in having less Native peoples because this means there will theoretically be more access to Native lands with less Native peoples.  One of the most important elements of settler colonialism is policing Native identity through blood quantum, erasure, assimilation, and shame.  Settlers have been defining the terms of our identity since the Dawes Allotment Act of 1887 when the U.S. government made a list of who they thought was Native and their percentage of Indian blood.  What concerns me here is that this conversation is dominating social media newsfeeds and Native peoples are supposed to “come out” and make a statement about whether Andy is an Indian or not.  People are demanding that Andy makes a statement, which is really, a demand for a self-confession.  Obviously, there is power in this identity stuff and the confession of your identity and policing other people’s racial identity.  As Rey Chow argues in a much more complex and nuanced way in The Protesting Ethnic, people of color can demand representation and/or to be included in institutions.  As Chow points out, this does not challenge power.  In fact, it solidifies power because no demand is made to actually change the institution.  You might have noticed 50 years of having women and people of color included into the academic industrial complex has not changed the institution much.  I see the violence, vigor, and erasure of Andy’s identity as that moment of a challenge of representation in the academy, which does not challenge settler colonialism or disrupt the academic industrial complex.  In fact, as Chow points out, this is what is demanded of the “protesting ethnic”: yell, protest, and police identity, “Demand that the power structure let you in!”

This debate does not challenge the academic industrial complex.  In fact, it is doing nothing more than reproducing and strengthening the academy because we are just fighting amongst ourselves and it is making some of us who are in vulnerable positions (undergraduates, graduate students, junior faculty without tenure-track jobs with an advisor who lots of people hate) scared to speak up and say something that actually challenges Native studies.  If this is all Native Studies can do is police identity, and silence people in our own communities, then I no longer want to be part of Native Studies.  Andy’s identity is not a matter of sovereignty for Native studies.  For the Cherokee Nation to decide that Andy is not a Cherokee is a matter of Cherokee sovereignty because one of the few ways Indigenous Nations who are federally recognized by the United States can practice our sovereignty is through the designation of Native citizenship through setting blood quantum requirements for our members.  For us to forsake Andy for not being Native when we have a white president of Native American and Indigenous Studies is very hypocritical.  Why let white people run Native Studies?  Does that make us less Native? I don’t think so but maybe it does.  We have real things to worry about, theorize, and love.  And this debate does not get us there.  It is not a caring debate.  The debate relies on those who want to be Native informants who tell all the other non-Natives that Andy is not Cherokee or Native like this means something really deep.   To me, it doesn’t.  When I found out there wasn’t a Santa Claus, I got over it.

This is not the most important thing happening in Native America, nor should it be.

This is NOT about Andy, but this is about us and how we deal with this shit.  As Stefano Harney and Fred Moten argue in The Undercommons, we should be trying to collect debt between us in the undercommons and not credit.  They write: “But debt is social and credit is asocial.  Debt is mutual.  Credit only runs one way” (58).  Credit is given to individuals and debt is something we share together.   It feels good to owe somebody something but within capitalism, debt is considered a bad thing that you are supposed to get rid of and gain more credit.  Capitalism and institutionalization through the academic industrial complex relies on credit, and for “protesting ethnics” heavily depends on racial credit.  This debate with Andy creates a demand for racial credit that is not real.  The logic goes something likes this:  “I am Native because I call out Andy as not Native” and through this action I supposedly gain racial credit and credibility as a Native person or a non-Native person who supports decolonization.  Fuck credit.  Let’s get into racial debt together.  Let’s owe each other a lot and not demand credit by calling people out as a wannabe.  Sure, I may lose my credibility over this but it has already been lost to those of you who punish Andy by hurting me.

I am a Native woman and my blood quantum is probably higher than yours.  I chose to work with Andy.  There are institutions where I won’t even apply because I know I would not be considered because of my association with Andy.  Please see how the policing of Native identity in the academic industrial complex does not challenge power or make it a safer place for Native peoples or any other oppressed group.

This whole argument of comparing Andy Smith and Rachel Dolezal displaces blackness once again in Native studies and makes it about whiteness and not about blackness.  Rachel Dolezal also claimed to be Native too but Native studies folks use the debate over Dolezal’s blackness to discredit Andy’s Indianness.  As I stated above, and many other scholars have done before me, blackness and Indigeneity have radically different racializations in the United States but both blackness and Indigeniety are perched on the what Denise Da Silva calls the “horizon of death.” (In terms of representation, the horizon of death, within Enlightenment thinking, people of color are not seen as full subjects and are therefore closer to animals than human that can be killed without impunity.)
Why is it that if one assumes Andy is not an Indian, that she suddenly becomes white by default? We should think about this and how Indian identity is regulated by scientific racism.  Blood quantum, while regulated by individual Native nations in the United States, is about eliminating Native identity and moving Natives towards whiteness within the Black and white binary.   However, whiteness engulfs Indigeneity thereby possessing Indigeneity.  This is one of the ways the politics of representation in a Black and white binary for Indigenous peoples often means representational genocide through engulfment.  Maile Arvin, by positioning anti-blackness as a form of possession by whiteness that undergirds settler colonialism, convincingly argues that decolonization of Native communities will not happen without also rooting out anti-blackness.  Native scholars who compare Andy’s lack of Indianness to Dolezal’s performance of blackness, displaces blackness by not discussing what is actually means to compare blackness and Indigeneity within the Black and white binary.  We, in Native studies, would be better served to try and talk about what it means that Dolezal claimed both a Black and Native identity, but no, scholars decided to use the media frenzy to discredit Andy and to avoid talking about anti-blackness in Native studies.  The conversation that is happening now needs to change because this does not challenge power or decolonize Native communities.  It actually reflects back what settlers have been doing to us for hundreds of years: dispossessing us of our identities and setting the parameters of how we think about ourselves and our desire to be recognized by the settlers as legitimate subjects.  To me, we should be having different conversations that could actually bring us closer together to fight the violence of white supremacy and settler colonialism instead of fighting with each other about who is what.  As this historical moment shows, they still want us dead and gone. We’ve been fighting against each other for centuries and that has not worked out so well.

Is Andy a “REAL” Indian or not? is not the question for this moment.  Right now, people of color are being murdered by the state in the streets, prisons, and even in churches.   We owe a debt to each other to work together and stop beating each other up.  We have the power to do that by asking different questions and not putting our focus on one person’s identity.  The stakes are really high.


Four Words for Andrea Smith: 'I’m Not an Indian'


Indian Country

I’m not an Indian. It’s okay.

By now, many of us have been confronted with the tangled ways to think about identity shifting in light of the Rachel Dolezal affair. Some attention has been rightfully paid to the long history of people “playing Indian” as well, both in the world of politics and the world of entertainment. And as Ward Churchill’s tribulations made very clear, the academic world is not immune to those who are either intentionally misleading others or deeply confused about their own identity. As all of these various cases point out, identity is in fact a confusing matter, sometimes designated by blood, other times by language, or heritage, or cultural performances. Now a parallel case, that of Professor Andrea Smith, has emerged from the blogosphere to hit the news, specifically yesterday’s piece in The Daily Beast, “Meet the Native American Rachel Dolezal.”

Reading many of the blogs and news sources over the last few weeks, both about the African American and American Indian cases of fraud, I can’t help but notice a lingering sense that people should not ‘police’ (a truly overwrought word in academic circles) other people’s identity. Though, to be sure, that is a particular form of individual based rights thinking to come to the conclusion, ‘Who am I to tell another person who they are or not?’ It doesn’t make it any easier to have these cases situated along side the breaking news of transgendered and transsexual benchmarks in American society, or at least in the American celebrity-sphere.

I was both an undergraduate and graduate student in American Indian Studies, particularly within Religious Studies at Arizona State University. This was the 1990s and identity politics had the type of traction leading to scholarships, financial aid, and preferential hiring. Being both in Religious Studies and Indigenous Studies provided a doubly difficult balancing act: in Religious Studies we struggled to be non-believers simply studying the how people were religious.

In Indigenous Studies, we were expected to learn and help a particular community, learning language and culture when invited to do, essentially dance along the border of cultural insider and outsider. Many of us were taught that scholarship offered limited practical help to Indigenous communities, but that we could ideally do both, produce research that helped counter the centuries of written misrepresentations and collaborate with Native peoples in local ways. Our success in these challenging goals varies across my generation.

Where these two paths crossed were the instances when our value to the academic world was based upon our racial, ethnic, and national identities. Was my work with the Yoeme (Yaqui) people better, more useful, more reliable, etc. if I was a Yoeme person? While they were very challenging (more than words can ever convey), those years as a graduate student were incredibly valuable for how they led me to learn how to say something so very simple and powerful: “I’m not an Indian.”

Those words are powerful because they enable both the speaker and listener to then determine if a path forward is of interest and of value to everyone involved. In my case, it helped that I was beginning to work with one the most highly Hippiefied tribes, thanks to Carlos Castaneda. At the age of 22, I was practicing Buddhist meditation and showed up to the Yaqui pueblos in northern Mexico uninterested in converting or adopting their ways. I was working on my own sense of self-less self. And while I’ve spent some time in Blessing Ways on the Navajo reservation and NAC meetings across the Southwest, those times were as an invited guest, not seeking to become Indian or appear more Indian. (Okay, I did try to pull off turquoise jewelry for a few years).

Perhaps, coming from a confusing bloodline of not knowing who my biological grandfather was, but being raised in vaguely Hispanic, Mexican, mixed-German immigrant and Catholic cultures, and regularly visiting reservations since childhood (as both tourist and neighbor), you might say that I was prepared in life to find the power in saying “I don’t necessarily know what I am.” My family has the pictures and names of Comanche and Cherokee women who ended up in the early New Mexican ranching family as adopted laborers, wives, or lovers. But I have no relation to those communities, so why would I ever say I’m one of them?

I knew I wasn’t Indian because I didn’t have an indigenous community calling me one of theirs. And I learned that it was important to many leaders and colleagues in my academic fields if I was Indigenous, more so than if I wasn’t. All around me I could see scholars prefer to quote, publish, and invite Indigenous academics. Perhaps of that “missing” grandfather, many people in native communities have said, “you look Indian.” But I think those claims helped them justify working with me, or were meant to compliment me. Or at least I took them that way.

I could have Indigenous blood beyond the Mexican bloodlines and the couple of grandmothers so far back that a few “greats” wouldn’t get there; but that’s not identity for me. I have learned much of Yoeme language, but that doesn’t make me Yoeme in even the slightest way. I have been taught much about Indigenous people, been taught ways of being that have changed my life in unbelievably wonderful ways; but I’m still a respectful guest on their land. And while I’ve spent many years, actually decades, trying to improve Indigenous rights and vitality in mostly academic ways (there are many fronts to this work), I’ve learned first-hand the danger of trying to speak for Native people rather than simply supporting their being heard. There lies the difference.

Andrea Smith surely thinks she is Cherokee; or she did at some point. She has been asked repeatedly to either stop claiming Cherokee identity or to either authenticate her claims through a reliable kinship, through ties to a specific family, or through the Cherokee Nation’s official process for enrollment. And she’s smart enough to know that in many tribal cultures, identity is not who you claim but who claims you. She has done incredible theoretical work in the academic field of Indigenous Studies and has even been recognized internationally for her broad and groundbreaking anti-violence coalition building. So does it matter that she did all of that in Red Face?

Yes it does.

Andy Smith did not just appear out of an egg, as a fully formed “woman of color” advocate, validated as an Indigenous scholar, and a Nobel Peace Prize nominee. She got there by grabbing the microphone, keeping others away from it, and deciding to speak both “as” and “for” a group of people. While writing my ethnographic works, I do sometimes speak “for” Yoemem; but I’ve also gone to great lengths to simply translate and when possible, amplify Yoeme people’s claims. But, I’ve never spoken “as” a Yoeme person.

For every scholarship she received as a Native person, for every honorarium she has received as an Indigenous speaker, for her book sales that a publisher sold as coming from a “Cherokee” author, those recognitions came at the expense of some student who wasn’t funded, some speaker who wasn’t invited, or some book by an Indigenous author that wasn’t bought.

She spent years cultivating relationships with other powerful women of color to ensure her insider status. And as I personally know, she pushed others out of her way by not only playing an insider, but also playing the gatekeeper. One only needs to visit this Tumblr page ( to see her strategic use of “we” when talking about Indigenous experiences and “them” when talking about colonizers. Andy and I both went to a graduate program, History of Consciousness, a place that excelled at theorizing the strategies of exactly such representations within social movements.

Lisa Aldred wrote a great scholarly article that methodically shows why people want to be Indian. In “Plastic Shamans and Astroturf Sun Dances,” she demonstrated that non-Indians are unconsciously motivated to become or affiliate as Indigenous because doing so alleviates them of their guilt about colonization. This essay is powerful in the classroom because it shows the sheer power of this motivation, from headdresses, to sweat lodge tourism, to the entire market for anything smacking of Indian spirituality.

I hesitate to give a “why” about Andrea Smith’s fraud. But I have some inclinations based on “imperialist nostalgia” as Aldred, Renato Rosaldo and others used that term. Having shared space with Andrea (or “Andy”) on multiple occasions, I want to believe she was motivated most by her desire to make the world better for Native people. Has she done a few wrong things, then, for all the right reasons?

Well, she has secured a comfortably middle-class profession and a position of respect. Moreover, she has gained the support, friendship, and camaraderie of some of the most intelligent Indigenous scholars and feminist activists I know. Were those made possible due to her claim of Indigenous identity? If so, then we shouldn’t only be pointing fingers at Andrea Smith. The problems lie with the standards of authenticity and authority that rest upon something as shifty, fragile, and falsifiable as identity.

The problem also lies with the people who believed Smith’s claim in the face of contradictory and reliable evidence. Obviously, my pondering all of this publicly doesn’t solve the problem. But the value of the conversation will only emerge if we must start first with honesty. That’s the power of saying what we know to be true.

So, to Andy (and Elizabeth Warren) and all the others out there saying they are Indians, just say it: “I’m not Indian.” It’s okay. We’re not so horrible that we can’t also do really great work at the same time as being afflicted with this condition of being non-Indian.

David Shorter is Professor and Vice Chair of World Arts and Cultures/Dance at the University of California Los Angeles. He is also affiliated with their American Indian Studies Program and Research Center. He has worked primarily with the Yoeme (Yaqui) people of Mexico in his writing and filmmaking, and is most recently the creator of the Wiki for Indigenous Languages.



Andrea Smith is Not Cherokee 2015

Andrea Smith is not Cherokee. (retumbled post)
From 2015

“Andrea Smith is not Cherokee. omg. this is not new information. this is what bugs me about how Natives are treated by non-Natives in academia!!! most Native scholars that are connected to their cultures/communities have questioned her for a very long time. but non-Natives get so comfortable using their one token go-to Native Feminist to quote that those questions don’t get heard or understood.

Andrea Smith does not rep being Cherokee unless you ask her, she usually introduces herself as a “woman of color” or Native. she has no ties to any Cherokee community, no record of her ancestry, and no known family that identifies as Cherokee or acknowledges Cherokee ancestry. her work does not take inspiration from and is not influenced by Cherokee culture or traditions, she does not use Cherokee language ever, and she has made no known attempt to ever learn Cherokee culture or connect with Cherokee people. regardless of whether her blood myth is true, if you have no interest in Cherokee culture or community, how the fuck are you Cherokee??

her behavior has been so suspect for so long. i mean she organized CESA in Chicago a few years ago, and not one local tribe or Native organization attended or was featured, even though Chicago has one of the biggest urban Indian populations in the US and she allegedly worked with Native sexual assault victims in that city for over a decade. how you gon do that work and not know or invite ANYONE to a conference themed on DECOLONIZATION? and no one in the movement to end violence against Native women, who is outside academia, knows who you are or what you do?? i mean who is really repping her??

she actively avoids reservations, tribal colleges, and Native people outside academia. she does not go to cultural events, and doesn’t even really work with other Natives. she loves to be the token Indian in “coalition spaces.” so why is it surprising that she’s not who she says she is??

it’s a shame honestly because she has overshadowed some really amazing Native feminist scholars for a VERY long time. in fact tomorrow i am going to put together a master post of Native feminist activists & scholars that i recommend checking out, so that people who aren’t in the loop can do some research on what is a really diverse and exciting field.

#andrea smith”
Author: Annita Lucchesi (Southern Cheyenne): “Heéváhetané'e, mé'êško'áe–Southern Cheyenne woman, hellraiser girl. Strong heart at @NIWRC (views my own). Spokane territory ·” (from twitter account). Please note that Lucchesi would prefer not to be contacted.


Statement from Tawna Barnett-Little (Muscogee Creek/Seminole)

First, I will identify who I am unlike the rest of these coward academics hiding behind anonymous online spaces.

Tanuce cv hocefkvt omen vm liketvt konepvlket on vm etvlwvt kvlicet os. Momen ocesvlke ecustet owis mon nokosvlke ecuste owis. Este-cate sofvckat owis.

My name is Tawna Little and I am a FULL-BLOOD – Muscogee Creek/Seminole woman (YES, I am enrolled/CDIB carrying) from the Skunk clan, and a daughter of the Bear clan. I was raised and still reside in my community; i’m a ceremonial practitioner and a language revitalizationist. My family has maintained strong ties and leadership roles in Muscogee ceremonial, church, and political life. I hold a degree in Native Studies from the University of Oklahoma.

I am not interested in entertaining silly online identity attacks that seem to consume your academic careers in order to make you feel personally more authenticated as Indigenous persons, HOWEVER, Andrea Smith is a long time dear friend of my family and your actions are beyond offensive and belittling to someone we deeply care about. Thus, I wish to lend my support to Andy by speaking truth while you all continue to act as bullies and process your own insecurities.

I want to point out that my family has long visited Cherokee ceremonial grounds (quite regularly during some seasons) to lend support in participation just as Cherokee ceremonial practitioners have long done the same during our Muscogee ceremonial dances. I have never seen any of these Andrea Smith-attackers in attendance at Cherokee ceremonies; none of them are Cherokee speakers nor are they ceremonial practitioners; most of these folks are of minimal blood quantum and look white. In fact, these very kind of identity police are who traditional ceremonial practitioners get a good laugh at.

I should also make a disclaimer here that I do not uphold blood-quantum, tribal enrollment and phenotype as authenticating markers of Indigenous identity; I am however very much aware that the only factor distinguishing Andrea Smith from her attackers is a tribal enrollment card. What else signifies these attackers as Indigenous? Who employed them as the authority on Cherokee identity? It certainly wasn’t the grass roots Cherokee persons with whom I fellowship. If I felt like participating in these kinds of colonial games instead of working to save my language from extinction and participating in my ceremonies in order to maintain the essence of my Muscogee identity, I would endeavor to call out all of these insecure “native” academics on their whiteness. Why do these attackers not speak their languages? Why weren’t they raised in traditional ceremonial ways? Why are they living far from their communities to pursue selfish academic positions? It’s because life is complicated! Moreover, historical realities are often ugly. For these same reasons I even find compassion for these hateful acting persons. Just because Andrea Smith’s ancestors did not enroll in the Cherokee Nation during the Dawes era does not mean she does not have the right to identify as Cherokee. It sounds as though you all are upholding Cherokee enrollment as the ultimate standard for Cherokee identity and the right to claim Cherokee identity. If so, that means you uphold an individual with a blood quantum of 1/4,096 (the last I heard it was the lowest recorded Cherokee Nation blood quantum, meaning the last full-blood in the family was 15 generations ago), who may have never even seen or interacted with another native person in their life, as somehow more legitimately Indigenous than an individual that grew up knowing she was Indigenous from oral tradition (but not enrolled) in her family and accepted a responsibility to engage social justice advocacy for Indigenous Peoples.

All academics have shortcomings and it amazes me that you choose to attack Andy’s identity as her shortcoming and take it to this level. That’s the best you could do in finding something to call her out on? How pitiful. Why not go after her scholarship, her arguments? Oh yeah, because they’re brilliant! And her work is used in both grass roots organizing spaces and academic settings. Testimonies of Indigenous female rape survivors have asserted Andy’s work to be healing and empowering. Andrea and her sister Justine have both been extraordinarily positive voices in my life as well as other members of my family. This also rings true during times of hardship when their words have been encouraging and they have been physically present in our lives…..oh, remember that I said i’m a FULL-BLOOD (black haired-brown skinned-Indian looking individual unlike the rest of these insecure-in-your-identity-academic-mixed-bloods who I would not have criticized until you decided to exercise identity policing) which means that Andrea does hang out with Native People, contrary to previous blogging claims that she does not hang around other Natives. Many others can attest to that as well.

As we say in Muscogee, “mistvlke fekcahke owet fullet owes” (they are going about in a jealous way). I guess if my academic scholarship was lacking, I might also develop jealousy toward Andrea Smith. So, attacking her identity on grounds of not having an enrollment card and “misrepresenting herself” is an easy target eaten up by non-grass roots Indigenous Peoples and is something that only mainstream whites and insecure Natives seem to care about. It is obvious that these attackers do not know Andrea and her personal family challenges, particularly those surrounding her lineage. Trying to survive in academia can be brutal in Native Studies arenas where everyone wants to be Indianer-than-thou. I am altogether compassionate toward her claim/misunderstanding about enrollment in the Cherokee Nation. That doesn’t dismiss her exceptional work, commitment to social justice and desire to end global oppression. Andrea does not claim to be a Cherokee cultural or language expert and these attackers evidently have fooled folks into thinking they are somehow culturally and linguistically superior to Andy in their Native identity. Wow, that’s a joke! Andrea has not used her Cherokee identity as a way to promote herself; rather, she identifies with what she was told her identity is growing up and she participates in social justice advocacy- for people other than herself. In fact, she went to law school to defend those who cannot defend themselves. Andrea has made INCREDIBLE personal sacrifices for her family and herself in order to fight for justice, and anyone that attempts to discredit her clearly does not get the whole picture. The virtues of my Muscogee People (vnokeckv, eyasketv, mehenwv, kvncvpkv) do not support this kind of hateful behavior. It sounds like most of these attackers are without traditional teachings from their respective nations; they have yet to learn how to live on this earth.


On the Politics of Distraction

July 2, 2015

“The accusation that indigenous feminists are engaged in a violent politics of disposability is remarkable (and ridiculous), since it seems the ones who are rendered disposable in just that accusation are –wait for it, wait for it!– indigenous feminists.” ~ Mimi Thi Nguyen (responding to this.)
@tequilasovereign: It’s not about blood quantum. It’s not about blood quantum. It’s not about blood quantum. It’s not about blood quantum.
So very many comments swirling, whirling around social media and news sites about Andrea Smith. So very many comments that distract us from the core issue. Here are a few of my own responses to the makers of distraction.

The Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma (CNO), Cherokee representatives and employees, and Cherokee citizens have known about Andrea Smith’s false claims to enrollment status and lineal descent since the early 1990s. They have been the most generous, the most empathetic, the most kind in their responses to her. They have confronted her privately, when made they have kept their agreements not to keep harping on her publicly, they have left her alone even when she hasn’t honored her agreements with them to stop identifying as an enrolled citizen. They even, to my understanding, counseled her that she could identify herself as “Cherokee by descent” if she had Cherokee relations and simply couldn’t satisfy enrollment/citizenship criteria in the CNO. This includes Richard Allen, Patti Jo King, David Cornsilk, and Steve Russell, but also many, many others.

The “bottom line” is that Andrea Smith presented the genealogical records she had to a Cherokee genealogist she hired at two different times–when she was trying to establish proof of a matrilineal claim in 1993 and when she was trying to establish proof of a patrilineal claim in 1999 (or thereabouts). Both attempts failed to pan out in establishing Cherokee descent. They both panned out in establishing her Euro-American descent. (In other words, there wasn’t an absence of genealogical records.)

Smith was, herself, so convinced of the validity of the results–accepting of the conclusions–that she stated to people that she had no legitimate lineal descent claim (in 1993, 1999, 2007, 2008) and that she would stop falsely claiming she was an enrolled Cherokee (in 2007 and 2008).

I find it troubled and troubling that people equate the politics of racial authenticity with the expectation of integrity and ethics in how someone identifies themselves in their work.
Forgive the bluntness but I could give a fuck (maybe even more) about whether or not Andrea Smith is enrolled or what her blood quantum is, nor do I care whether or not she conforms to stereotypical, phenotypical expectations of physical appearance (skin, hair, eye color etc.). I don’t care if she has thousands of years of documented affiliation or whether or not she looks Indian to non-Indians.
When I published an article in 2003 on the Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990, I got into trouble with some Native scholars, artists, and community members (including Cherokee) for arguing that it–like so many other federal, state, and tribal laws–relies on official enrollment status in a federally recognized tribe in order to allow someone to represent their work as “Indian made.” As I also argue in other publications, federal recognition and even tribal enrollment criteria often rely on and so perpetuate racialized notions of identity and cultural authenticity through blood quantum criteria. These criteria are embedded historically in the administration of the General Allotment Act of 1887 and the dispossession of Native peoples from their territories. We need other ways of reckoning Native legal status and rights.

Many Native people disagree with me. Many Cherokee and other southeastern people whose tribes were removed into Indian Territory (Oklahoma) argued that they produced their own documentation during allotment and have better genealogical records than just about anyone else in the United States (excepting, perhaps, the Mormons). I feel conflicted about these claims when I think with the historical work of Angie Debo and Theda Perdue. But I also know that the CNO and other tribes in Oklahoma have fairly damn good genealogies that do not rely on the documents of federal, state, or church institutions.

To stay on point, the CNO, unlike most other tribes in the United States, does not require a particular blood quantum in order to be enrolled or a citizen. They do require that you are able to demonstrate lineal descent, in whatever degree or way that may come. The CNO has taken (and again, please excuse the bluntness) a lot of shit for that criteria. They have born the brunt of SCOTUS decisions (Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl, 2013) and social media mockery for “letting anyone” into their tribe–even someone with “3/256th” blood degree (to quote SCOTUS).

And then, of course, there are the problems the CNO have had with respecting their own treaties with regards to the legal status and rights of Cherokee Freedmen (Black-Indians).

My point is that expecting Andrea Smith–or anyone else–to be honest, to have integrity, in how they identify themselves and their work is not the same thing as policing their/her identity through the standards of racial authenticity. No one I know has ever asked her what her racial quota is or whether or not she can produce her CDIB.

Equating “identity policing” with the expectation of integrity with how someone presents themselves as Native is part of the trouble–anticipating that kind of racialized equivalence is exactly why Cherokee people and Native scholars who have known about Smith’s fraud for 7 to 24 years have never come forward.

And this might be where the comparison of Rachel Dolezal and Andrea Smith both helps and doesn’t help non-Natives understand the issues. I’m still trying to think this through but in watching how dynamically people have misunderstood the comparison, I have come to believe that Dolezal’s “racial shifting” is perhaps not the best way to help non-Natives understand Smith’s fraud. I am rethinking this comparison in relation the work of Native scholars like David Wilkins and Heidi Stark. They demonstrate that Native/Indigenous is a legal category indicating a certain status and set of rights under international and extraconstitutional law. Native/Indigenous is not a race/ethnicity or minority status. (See David E. Wilkins and Heidi Kiiwetinepinesiik Stark. American Indian Politics and the American Political System. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2010.)

Perhaps Dolezal’s race shifting illuminates Smith’s fraud only in the sense that Dolezal and Smith have laid claim on a social experience of racialized oppression that they do not have. For Dolezal’s blackface this was enacted through the alteration of her personal appearance and social behavior. For Smith’s redface it was enacted through a legal claim on status and rights in the Cherokee Nation. But much more informed, thoughtful work through these issues are needed. Beginning with the understanding that expecting people to be honest about how they identify is not the same thing as asking people to conform to racist notions of authenticity.

If an anti-racist feminist politics is not grounded in integrity and ethics, what is it good for? If someone’s scholarship and political work is based on a fraudulent misrepresentation not only of who they are but what they have experienced based on who they are, then what happens to anti-racist feminist theoretical interventions and political organizing? How does the fraud work itself in and through the practice of confronting racist, sexist ideologies and the insidious way those ideologies structure state, social, and interpersonal forms of oppression and violence?

The difficult history not being talked about yet is how fraudulent claims to Cherokee citizenship, enrollment, and identity have worked in concert with federal and state efforts to undermine and dispossess Cherokee governance and territorial rights. The fraud, in other words, doesn’t operate in an historical vacuum. It didn’t just appear in the 1990s or “get outed” in 2015. It has a complicated, largely erased history of establishing and protecting state claims on Native governments, lands, and bodies. That is why, all throughout these conversations, the integrity and ethics of how one defines and represents oneself as Native is so deeply important and so deeply feminist in relation to one’s political practice.

4. All I know is this. Andrea Smith and I went to graduate school at UCSC at the same time (me 1992-2000 and her 1997-2002). Smith told me then that it was her father who was Cherokee, a descendant of Redbird Smith, and some difficult stories about her mother which I won’t divulge here. Actually I learned very quickly not to ask her too many personal questions.

It wasn’t until 2007-2008 that I heard Smith was telling other people during her time at UCSC and then within the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association (NAISA) and CNO that it was her mother and her mother’s parents who were enrolled Cherokee. She was also telling people that she was enrolled. I was confused and assumed that I had misremembered what she told me.
After Steve Russell’s ICT editorials in March/April 2008, a group of about a dozen Native feminist scholars involved in a contracted book project with Smith (who was a co-editor) attempted to talk to Smith about Russell’s editorials. Smith had already told the other co-editor of the book that she had no lineal descent claim. When we all got on the conference call together, Smith refused to talk with the rest of us about it. She got on the call, bursted into tears, said “I can’t do this,” and hung up.
I can’t even begin to tell you how difficult and painful and vexing this has been for us as scholars and friends. We have worried and disagreed and struggled with one another over what the right and honorable thing to do is. There has been nothing easy about it. Nothing.

I share this because in the blogosphere of reactions to what seems like new information about Smith for a lot of people, people are speaking as if those of us who have known, who have tried to think out loud about the issues in the last few days and weeks, are spiteful and mean-spirited and hateful people. That has not been my experience. The Native feminists and NAIS allies, UCSC alum and others, who have known and who are just beginning to speak up about the issues are compassionate, generous, empathetic, and smart and have been genuinely distressed about Smith–and for Smith’s health and well-being–and what the right thing is to do and to say for years and years and years. It has required a lot of spiritual, emotional, professional, and intellectual energy to work through. And we are only just beginning.

My challenge to everyone is to stay focused. There are too many distractions in conversations about these issues–too many accusations of papergenocide, lateral violence, cruelty. They have seemed, to me, disingenuous. A way to refocus the question and alleviate Smith of any kind of responsibility or accountability.

My favorite of these distractions so far has been accusations of me and others who have spoken up of being members of COINTELPRO or secret FBI-agents out to destroy a revolutionary (and you know who you are). I really have nothing to say other than “good one.” You’ve made me/us really important if somewhat inept for outing ourselves so easily.

Update: I stand corrected. My new most favorite thing in all of this is that I am a jealous, irrelevant scholar advancing a politics of disposability. Because the Cherokee are sovereign.


Rachel Dolezal and Andrea Smith: Integrity, Ethics, Accountability, Identity

The politics of racial shifting in anti-racist feminist organizing has been made anew in recent debates over the cases of Rachel Dolezal (formerly known as Black) and Andrea Smith (formerly known as Cherokee).

I want to think—out loud— through these cases together and the incredibly different ways that people have responded to them. For myself, I am trying to understand the differences in the cultural and social expectations and claims on Blackness and Indigeneity that they mark and how those expectations and claims operate so differently within and for Black and Native communities. I have more questions than answers.

Dolezal Today

Dolezal’s parents, Ruthanne and Lawrence (Larry), reveal to local journalists and NBC news anchors that their daughter, Rachel, has been lying about her ancestry (see reports from June 15June 16, and June 17). On June 15, under pressure from the NAACP, Rachel Dolezal resigns as President of the Spokane chapter of the NAACP, and subsequently loses her faculty position in the Africana Education program at Eastern Washington University. According to some reports, linked above, she is being investigated by the City of Spokane’s Ethics Commission for ethics violations in misrepresenting herself as Black on an application to serve on the City’s Police Oversight Board.
In a June 16 interview with Matt Lauer on the Today Show, Dolezal attempted to counter her parent’s statements by asserting her right of “self-identification.”
“Dolezal: Well, first of all, I really don’t see why they’re [her parents] in such a rush to whitewash some of the work that I have done, and who I am, and how I’ve identified, and this goes back to a very early age, with my self-identification with the black experience as a very young child. Lauer: When did it start? Dolezal: I would say about 5 years old. Lauer: You began identifying yourself as African-American? Dolezal: I was drawing self-portraits with the brown crayon instead of the peach crayon and black, curly, hair, you know, yeah. That was how I was portraying myself. Lauer: So it started way back then. Rachel, when did you start—and I’ll use the word, you can correct me if you don’t like it—when did you start deceiving people and telling them you were black when you knew their questions were pointed in a different direction? When someone said to you, back then, “Are you black or white?” and you’d say “I’m black,” you wouldn’t say, “I identify as black,” you’d say, “I’m black.” When did you start deceiving people? Dolezal: Well, I do take exception to that, because it’s a little more complex than me identifying as black or answering a question of “Are you black or white?” I was actually identified when I was doing human rights work in north Idaho as, first, trans-racial, and then when some of the opposition to some of the human rights work I was doing came forward, the next day’s newspaper article identified me as being a biracial woman, and then the next article when there were actually burglaries, nooses, etcetera, was, this is happening to a black woman. And I never corrected— Lauer: Well, why didn’t you correct it if you knew it wasn’t true? Dolezal: Because it’s more complex than, you know, being true or false in that particular instance. [After questions about the ways she has changed her appearance.] Dolezal: Absolutely. Absolutely. I have a huge issue with blackface. This is not some freak, Birth of a Nation mockery blackface performance. This is on a very real connected level, how I’ve actually had to go there with the experience, not just the visible representation, but with the experience, and the point at which that really solidified was when I got full custody of Izaiah. And he said, “you’re my real mom,” and he’s in high school, and for that to be something that is plausible, I certainly can’t be seen as white and be Izaiah’s mom. [After questions about misrepresenting her father as a Black man.] Dolezal: Albert Wilkerson is my dad. Every man can be a father, not every man can be a dad. Lauer: Your lawsuit in 2002 against Howard University, where you claim you were discriminated against because you were a pregnant white woman. Do you understand how people could hear that and say, “Here’s another example—she says she identified herself as being African-American or black from a young age, but here’s a case where she identified herself as a white woman because it worked for her under the circumstances.” Dolezal: The reasons for my full-tuition scholarship being removed and my teaching position as well, my TA position, were that other people needed opportunities and you probably have white relatives that can afford to help you with your tuition. And I thought that was an injustice. … Dolezal: Well, as much as this discussion has somewhat been at my expense, recently, in a very sort of viciously inhumane way—come out of the woodwork, and—the discussion’s really about what it is to be human, and I hope that that can drive at the core of definitions of race, ethnicity, culture, self-determination, personal agency, and ultimately empowerment. . . . Dolezal: I actually was talking to one of my sons yesterday and he said, “Mom, racially you’re human and culturally you’re black.” And, you know, so we’ve had these conversations over the years, I do know that they support the way  that I identify, and they support me. Ultimately, we have each other’s back. We’re the Three Musketeers.”
Criticisms, however, of Dolezal had flooded social media, news, and community forums, accusing her of blackface, opportunism, appropriation, and privilege. Dolezal responded to these criticisms by claiming to be “transracial” (also of Native American descent—growing up in a tipi, hunting with a bow and arrow), identifying as a bisexual, claiming to have been sexually abused by her brother, and claiming to have been raised in a too-strict Christian home. In the end, none of these claims dissuaded her critics and only enraged them further with calls of accountability. Dolezal was forced to resign on June 15 from her position at the NAACP and from her faculty position at EWU.

Smith Tumble

About two weeks ago, Annita Lucchesi (Southern Cheyenne) posted a comment on her tumblr page entitled “Andrea Smith is not Cherokee.” In Lucchesi’s biography for an article she wrote for Last Real Indians in honor of Loretta Saunders, it says, “Annita Lucchesi is a Southern Cheyenne survivor of sexual and domestic violence. She is a graduate student in the Critical Culture, Gender, & Race Studies department at Washington State University, and also works at the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center, which is dedicated to reclaiming the sovereignty of Native nations and safeguarding Native women and their children.” Her comment on tumblr about Smith begins:
“Andrea Smith is not Cherokee. omg. this is not new information. this is what bugs me about how Natives are treated by non-Natives in academia!!! most Native scholars that are connected to their cultures/communities have questioned her for a very long time. but non-Natives get so comfortable using their one token go-to Native Feminist to quote that those questions don’t get heard or understood.”

For clarification: This is not an image I created. It circulated on twitter a couple of weeks ago, after the one comparing Elizabeth Warren with Rachel Dolezal was posted, and after Lucchesi’s comments.

A day later, Lucchesi posted a comment entitled “cool indigenous feminist scholars to check out.” Both of her comments generated close to 6,000 replies, including likes, reposts, and remarks. The overwhelming majority of the respondents express some form of shock, dismay, pain, and outrage over the news about Smith and gratitude for the recommended reading list.

As Lucchesi’s comments were circulated on twitter and Facebook by Native and non-Native academics, activists, and community members, they provoked a diverse intensity of responses, including criticisms of those who did the circulating as witch-hunters, mean-spirited, lacking logic, not knowing what they were talking about, and the like.

Within a few days, a new tumblr page appeared: andreasmithisnotcherokee. With multiple Cherokee and other sources and primary and secondary documentation dating back to 1991, the page tracks a 24-year history of Smith misrepresenting herself as an enrolled Cherokee citizen, of being confronted on the validity of her claims and agreeing with the Cherokee Nation to no longer publicly identify as Cherokee, and of subsequently allowing others to misrepresent her as a Cherokee intellectual and activist.

Smith’s admissions to multiple Cherokee people in 1993, 2007, and 2008 that she has no lineal descent claims as a Cherokee is as striking as the fact, as noted on tumblr, that, “To date, no member of the Redbirth Smith family or any other Cherokee family has acknowledged Andrea Smith’s claims of descent/belonging.”

In the two weeks since Lucchesi’s posts, the twitter and Facebook flurry, and the appearance of andreasmithisnotcherokee, not a single national media outlet or professional institution or association to which Smith is a member has remarked on Smith’s case. And neither has Smith responded–to refute, to acknowledge, to apologize. In fact, it appears that all she has done in response is to close her twitter account (@andrea366, though one she seems to be affiliated with @NativeChristian remains active) and her Facebook account (Andy Smith).

[Insert the sounds of crickets here.]

In my albeit limited worlds of social media–wordpress, twitter, Facebook–I have watched as many Natives and non-Natives in and outside of the academy have posed questions about the timing and motivations of the tumblr posts/pages. These questions have oftentimes assumed that it has been common knowledge, certainly within Native studies since 2008, that Smith is a fraud, so why bring it all up (again) now?

Instead of assuming that “everybody knew/knows,” particularly within Native studies since 2008, which is clearly not the case given the responses to the tumblr posts and circulation mentioned above, a more productive place to begin might be to ask why there has not been any noticeable difference in professional or political expectations of Smith—in her self-presentations, speaking engagements, professional service, and publications? There are certainly many people who knew/know, so why have her ethics and integrity not been questioned or challenged in the same or similar way to those of Dolezal? Why does Smith’s fraud get excused on the grounds of “her good work” but Dolezal does not?

Obviously I am not suggesting that Dolezal and Smith have the same kind or volume of professional publications or that they do the same kind of political work.

But it seems to me that the ethical issues swirling around Smith are so viscous and thick for Native and non-Native academics (and) activists (especially those aligned as anti-racist feminists) that it is impossible to wade through them without taking any kind of action whatsoever. Like trying to stand nonchalantly in quick sand or to sit comfortably in a pot of water as it comes to a boil.

Moving, Forward

If the past 24 years are any indication of the future, I fear what will happen in regards Smith is this:
  1. non-Native academics (and) activists will eventually dismiss the sources and documentation of Smith’s fraud as crass or too-complicated identity politics, something that they can’t possibly understand or take a position on, as the advancement of oppressively racial state normativities, or as an example of problems unique to Native people that Natives have to sort out for themselves.
  2. Native academics (and) activists will turn on one another, will go mute, or will ignore the information (again) in the name of not advancing racism, not doing harm to Smith, or showing respect for her “good work” in “the community.”
Meanwhile, we’ll all fail to ask why, as Dolezal and Smith present themselves through such complicated personal stories of childhood abuse and family dysfunction, we respond so differently to Dolezal’s blackface and Smith’s redface. We’ll avoid the opportunity to think out loud together about why it seems the entire nation demands accountability of someone pretending to be Black–of literally altering her physical appearance to conform to racist expectations of Blackness–but doesn’t seem to give one iota of concern about those who pretend to be Indian.

Is this because, at the end and beginning and middle of Smith’s fraud, “we” would all like to claim or have already claimed to have been raised in tipis, hunting for our food, feeling Indian since we were kids, shifting out of ourselves into the Indian’s pains and successes? Is it that “we” all, secretly, want to be Indian like her? Or perhaps that “we” all, secretly, already claim to be Indian ourselves?


Popular posts from this blog

Chamorro Public Service Post #11: An Gumupu Si Paluma

Chamorro Public Service Post #13: Baby Vocabulary

Angels carrying savage weapons