No, Andrea Smith is not the “Native American Rachel Dolezal”
By Erica Violet Lee
Rather than tearing down any one woman, support the already-existing immense body of work of Indigenous scholars, particularly, that of Indigenous feminists and Indigenous women. Support the work of Indigenous feminists whose work is useful for our communities.
Jealous of Smith?
But then Smith's defenders got serious with their accusations:
Statement from Tawna Barnett-Little (Muscogee Creek/Seminole)
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.
If I ever heard of Smith before this controversy, I don't remember it. I'm not Native, "traditional," or academic, so there's nothing for me to be jealous of. I criticize people who lie and dissemble because lying and dissembling is wrong.
For the umpteenth time, no one is saying a word about Smith's work or her advocacy. We're talking about her identity problems such as the "misunderstanding" about being an enrolled Cherokee.
More important things to do?
Why Realness Fails Us in Native Studies
By Chris Finley
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.
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.
Wow, I am so sick of the "more important things" argument. If you're in academia, you're automatically not doing anything truly critical. "Chris Finley is a queer Native feminist finishing her PhD in American culture at the University of Michigan"...and that's what we should be doing instead of criticizing Andrea Smith? Because getting a PhD is the key to saving Native lives?
Finley and her ilk are thinking, writing, and teaching about long-term issues, which is fine and dandy. But don't tell us you're holier than thou--e.g., saving children from burning fires--and we're not. Academics, journalists, entertainers, and artists all contribute to the furtherance of Native culture and history in their own ways. Talking about wannabes who co-opt Native identity is one of those ways.
Working for Big Brother?
Statement from Klee Benally (Diné/Russian-Polish)
When Ward Churchill’s identity was called into question it clearly served a conservative agenda. My position then was that his identity is between him and the creator and an issue for his family and Nation to address internally through their own cultural process. After all, the primary issues regard accountability, colonialism, and white supremacy. I still maintain that his political contributions shouldn’t be uncritically thrown out when challenged with the colonial institution of “blood-quantum.”
Accountability on Indigenous terms figures quite different than putting someone on a social media blast. Certainly ethnic fraud should be critically addressed regarding Indigenous (mis)representation but is this the proper way and venue to address matters that have such serious implications? Perhaps we should also consider the standard set by Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma’s shit politics regarding anti-black dis-enrollments? It’s further concerning how the logic of this applies to non-Federally recognized Indigenous Peoples too, what are the standards for Indigenous academic purity there?
This isn’t to excuse redface, but to recognize that quantum/enrollment issues are more complex than the Dolezal matter (her own family put her on blast, which is quite different than what’s playing out with Andrea Smith), just check the Pechanga or Pala issues for reference: http://losangeles.cbslocal.com/…/casino-tribe-outcasts-cla…/
In other words, Benally is excusing redface. Anyone and everyone can pretend to be Native if they feel like it. If my heart and soul tell me I'm Cherokee, I am.
Unfortunately for Benally, Smith isn't being accused of having a too-low blood quantum, or of violating the Cherokee Nation's standards. She's accused of having no Cherokee heritage whatsoever. No blood ties, no community ties, nothing. So spare us the histrionic talk about how the System and the Man are trying to oppress poor Andrea the wannabe.
Sticking to Smith's fraud
Another commenter pushed back against these accusations, noting how people were trying to change the subject from Smith's misdeeds.
On the Politics of Distraction
By Joanne Barker
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.
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.
Therefore, I don't understand why people would go around touting a rumor or a lie for years. Why don't they just save us the trouble and check themselves into a psychiatric institute? Because clearly they have unresolved issues and need help.
For more on Indian wannabes, see Vague Ancestors Aren't a Free Pass and Rachel Dolezal = Indian Wannabe.