September 19, 2015

The Dartmouth Dolezal?

Native Americans Blast Dartmouth for New Hire

The new director of Dartmouth’s Native American Program is causing controversy over her confusing—and possibly inaccurate—background.

By Samantha Allen
A week ago, Dartmouth announced that ethnomusicologist Susan Taffe Reed is the new director of the college’s Native American Program, boasting that she is “the president of the Eastern Delaware Nations.”

But the Eastern Delaware Nations (EDN) is not a federally recognized Native American tribe, it’s a 501(c)(3) that also allows “members [who] are not of Native American descent, but [who] join as social members.” And, after a searing blog post unearthed alleged death certificates of Taffe’s ancestors that show her family coming to the U.S. from Ireland after the Indian Removal Act, Native American alumni of the college are protesting the hire on their Facebook page. Native American media is also scrutinizing Dartmouth’s decision to hire someone for a student affairs position who seems less than forthcoming about her own heritage.

The issue, they say, is not necessarily the EDN’s lack of federal recognition but a refusal of transparency on Taffe Reed’s part that recalls recent cases like disgraced former NAACP chapter president Rachel Dolezal and UC Riverside professor Andrea Smith, who continues to claim Cherokee identity despite backlash from Cherokee scholars and leaders.
And:Dr. Nicky Kay Michael, a Native American historian and member of the federally recognized Delaware Tribal Council told The Daily Beast that she is very skeptical of Taffe Reed’s claim to be from the Turtle Clan if she is unwilling to openly discuss her heritage.

“When you say those things, that’s a red flag,” Michael said. “If you are Delaware, you’re going to have to say who your family is. It’s not just a case of federal recognition; we want to know who you are. What family do you come from?”

As Michael notes, the Delaware tribes in the United States that currently have federal recognition originally lived near the Delaware River but relocated west under pressure from the government beginning in the mid-eighteenth century. The Pennsylvania-based Eastern Delaware Nations group from which Taffe Reed hails claims on its website that most of its members are “descendants of Native Americans who lived in the Endless Mountains Region of Northeastern Pennsylvania and resisted being removed” but many in official Delaware tribes, Michael included, dispute the notion that a substantial number of Native Americans stayed behind in the Northeast.

“They don’t ask our permission to use our name and then they appropriate our culture,” Michael said of the EDN. “What [Taffe Reed] did is she basically used this 501(c)(3) as a forum and then she wrote articles claiming to be Delaware.” Michael does not speak for the Delaware Tribe but she says that an official statement is forthcoming.
The head of a Native studies program doesn't have to be Native herself. But people are questioning whether she fibbed about being Native, which is an ethics issue regardless of her ancestry.

They're also concerned about conflating a nonprofit organization--one with non-Natives as members--with an unrecognized tribe. An unrecognized tribe has people living together with a shared culture and a documented history. A nonprofit like the Eastern Delaware Nations (EDN) Inc. generally doesn't.

For more on the subject, see "White" = Ordinary and Bland and Andrea Smith the White Savior.

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