February 17, 2010

Sarris's Indian identity questioned

Casino critic challenges tribal leader's Indian heritage

By Clark MasonGreg Sarris—professor, novelist and Indian leader—has been the face of the Graton Rancheria since the tribe was restored by an act of Congress a decade ago, and the point man as it seeks to build a casino next to Rohnert Park.

But one of his staunchest casino adversaries, who has spent several years researching U.S. Census records, claims Sarris doesn't have a trace of Indian heritage.

“Mr. Sarris possesses no Native American blood, and specifically, no Coast Miwok and/or Southern Pomo blood, and thus is not qualified to be a member of the (FIGR) Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria,” Marilee Montgomery wrote in a Feb. 8 letter to federal and state officials.

She has asked the U.S. Department of Interior, which oversees Indian tribes, to review the information she discovered “and if applicable, de-certify” Sarris as tribal chairman.

Sarris said Montgomery's allegations are “horrendously offensive to me and my family.”

“I have immediate blood family members, at least 40 in this tribe,” he said.
Greg SarrisGreg Sarris is a college professor, author, screenwriter, and a member and current Chairman of the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria. He was chosen in 2005 to fill the Endowed Chair in Native American Studies at Sonoma State University. The Chair was endowed by his tribe.

He was formerly the Fletcher Jones Professor of Creative Writing and Literature at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, and a full professor at UCLA for ten years.

Sarris was born in 1952 in Santa Rosa, California. According to Sarris, his birth father was not named on the birth certificate, and his birth mother declared a Mexican man to be the father, but he decided that Emilio Hilario was his father. Whether or not Hilario had Native American blood is currently the subject of debate, as genealogical records indicate that he did not. Mary Bernadette "Bunny" Hartman, of Irish and German-Jewish descent, was his mother. He was adopted by a local couple, George and Mary Sarris.
Comment:  If you read the article, it's difficult to tell who's right. Sarris sounds like he has hard evidence--i.e., physical documentation--but then refers to oral histories. But Census records can be wrong too--as when Indians called themselves Mexicans because it was more socially acceptable.

For more on the subject, see Two Faces of Enrollment and Box-Checkers and Mock-Checkers.


Anonymous said...

On October 1,2012, a member of the family through which Greg Sarris claims Native American heritage, made public the fact that the family has no Indian blood. You can find more information by searching for Velia Navarro AND Greg Sarris

CalNativeTruth said...

In September 2012, the matriarch of the family through which Sarris claimed Native ancestry went public with the revelation that the family has no Indian blood at all. Her own oral history and the vital records she has in her possession support the 2010 research.

This was not a matter of people pretending to be Mexican to conceal their Indian identity, for this family originated on the East Coast and has no Native American blood. The family history provided by Sarris is fiction. Even the death certificate he claims to have of the woman he calls "Nettie Smith", is either a figment of his imagination or is falsified. The death certificate of Reinette (never "Nettie") shows that she died "Reinette Morton", her second husband's name. The certificate was filled out by her daughter, Evelyn Sarragossa Hilario, the woman Greg Sarris claims to be his fraternal grandmother.

Reinette is the woman Sarris claims to be the first and only, illegitimate daughter of North Coast Natives Tom Smith ( a medicine man Sarris claims) and Emily Stewart. She was not. Reinette was the 6th child of seven born to Joseph P. Stewart a barber from Pennsylvania and Emily B. Stewart from Maine, whose own parents were from England.

Family Matriarch Velia Navarro, 68,who would be Sarris' third cousin assuming he is actually related to this family, has prepared a Sworn Declaration which can found online at www.stopthecasino101.com

CalNativeTruth said...

I'll be interested to see if you print the information