The Cherokee Nation is denouncing scholar-activist Andrea Smith for falsely claiming to be a member of the tribe. Beyond untrue, the ethnic fraud is a painful reminder of their past.
By Samantha Allen
But according to Patti Jo King, a Cherokee historian and Interim Chair of American Indian Studies at Bacone College who says she privately conversed with Smith about her claims of Cherokee identity in 2007, it is Smith’s deception—not her enrollment status and not her advocacy—that constitutes the central issue.
“She’s trying to switch the argument around here,” King told The Daily Beast in a phone interview. “We are not talking about her scholarship here. We are not talking about her commitment to Indian people.”
King also shared more details about the 2007 conversation in which she and Richard Allen, a Cherokee policy analyst, met with Smith to discuss her claims of Cherokee identity. During that conversation, Smith told King and Allen that her mother had told her that she was Cherokee. According to Cornsilk’s timetable, however, Smith would have already received confirmation that she was not Cherokee twice by that time.
King added that Smith was “very humble” during that meeting but now seems determined to continue claiming Cherokee identity in spite of the criticism she has received in the past week.
“This infringes on our rights of self-determination, self-identity, and sovereignty,” King said. “We are the best experts of our own culture and we have the sovereign right to decide who our members are, just like any nation.”
By Terese Marie Mailhot
For years Smith has been conjuring her fake spirit animal to cry wolf, acting like she’s one of the many Indian women who face violence and subjugation. It’s a little too generous to say Smith was led to believe she was Indian. I mean, good lord, nobody told me I was an Indian. When my mom found out we were part Irish, she read a bunch of Irish literature, we made soda bread, and then called it a day. We couldn’t get in touch with our Irish roots, because by lineage, blood, and community, we were too Indian. So Indian my mother put the Irish flag on regalia. So Indian, my mother argued Irish people should be called Indigenous because, just like us, they were exploited by the Europeans. How was Smith lead to believe she was Indian? Did she grow up in an Indian community? Nope. Are either of her parents Indian? Nope. She, like most white people who think they’re Indian, was told she was part Indian. She took that and ran with it. Ran hard. Like, took that loose mouthed claim to lineage, and made a career out of it.
Trust me, I empathize with people removed from their culture. The sixties scoop is a real issue for many Native people throughout North America. If you’re unfamiliar, it was a period in which the government could scoop up Indian children from their communities, then place them up for adoption in Canada and the US. That’s real: for the people disconnected from their cultures, and for the people who could not find their real parents. I empathize with Native people shut out from their culture, but don’t confuse their stories with that of Smith. She’s hella white, and she tried to save us. Can we call her what she is: a white savior.
Native academic communities are far too kind. I’ve seen endless blog posts and editorials empathizing with Smith. Even defending her, saying she’s done so much good. No. Her deceit affected the ethos of every institution she worked for. Her criticism of government funding was coming from a dangerous space, where she never had to rely on government funding to feed her children or protect her sisters. She’s a fake. Her work was based around her identity, and scholars have the audacity to say how she identifies isn’t worth noting.
"One of the terrains on which this is being fought is that of how we define “Indian.” The current effort to define Indian as a racial/cultural group is an effort to extinguish Indian sovereignty. The only way for Indian nations to defend and expand their sovereignty is to make exclusive claim to defining who is Indian and what it means to be Indian. If Indians have sovereignty, then culture, behavior, and belief should have nothing to do with who is or is not Indian. After all, we wouldn’t deny someone’s Germanness because they hate sauerkraut, nor would we have the audacity to recognize someone as German simply because they love it. German is what German does. Indian is what Indian does…
What does this have to do with non-enrolled Cherokees identifying as such? I see the basis of claims to Indian identity to be political acts. This is, and has been, a battle over sovereignty. One who bases their claim to Indian identity on any basis other than sovereignty is not taking a pro-Indian position.”
By rejecting the idea that enrollment or citizenship in an Indian Nation is a factor in who is or is not Indian, Andrea Smith is taking an anti-Indian position. That is a direct attack on tribal sovereignty. No matter what Smith says, she is not acting in our best interest. She is not our friend and she is not seeking justice for us. Instead, she's forced us to a national stage where we must defend our tribal sovereignty, and once again, battle to protect one of the only things we Cherokees have left--our identity.
The problem is that if everyone's an Indian, no one's an Indian. It washes away the actual history of tribal sovereignty and government-to-government relations. It turns generations of subjugation and oppression into a feel-good party of rainbows and fairy dust.
This is why people have complained about the "melting pot" metaphor. Wannabes are helping Natives melt into a homogenized stew of white gruel with bits of flavoring. The result is a bland "we're all Americans but some of us have funny names and costumes," which is vastly different from thousands of unique Native cultures with millennia of history.
For more on the subject, see Cornsilk: Smith "Is Not a Cherokee" and Andrea Smith Defends Herself.