Tribal scholars say some faculty are falsely claiming American Indian heritage to boost their job prospects.
By Mary Annette Pember
Chenault argues that not requiring proof of tribal enrollment reflects mainstream institutions’ lack of commitment to genuine diversity. She says allowing those with marginal tribal ties to represent the Native community only diminishes the importance of indigenous academics and opens the discipline to attack.
Haskell and the other tribal colleges require proof of tribal affiliation from all faculty and staff claiming American Indian heritage. Tribal colleges’ unique relationship with the federal government allows them to extend Native preference to students and staff. Chenault and the Association of American Indian and Alaska Native Professors say that standard for faculty should apply at all universities and colleges, whether mainstream or tribal.
“If a potential job candidate falsely claimed to have a Ph.D., that person would not be considered. It should be the same for those claiming to be Native American,”Chenault says.
The term refers to those in academic programs who not only falsely claim tribal affiliation but also set themselves up as official purveyors of American Indian culture and religion. Some of the professors Noley has labeled as mock-checkers have been known to conduct so-called sacred ceremonies as part of their courses. Many of the ceremonies, however, are little more than amalgamations of parts of disparate ceremonies or outright fabrications.
The reports of questionable ceremonial activities have included stories of faculty taking students on trips to search for their power animals, teaching “sacred” dances, conducting ceremonies each time reservation land was crossed and others.
Chenault maintains that faculty who engage in these activities do a tremendous disservice to the Native community and academic disciplines. She says their presence marginalizes American Indian culture and eliminates opportunities for true, qualified American Indians. She speculates that a degree of racism lurks beneath the surface of mock-checkers.
“They seem to believe they are more knowledgeable than tribal people and therefore better advocates for tribes,” she says.
For more on the subject, see Indian Wannabes and Defining Who's an Indian.