Elizabeth Hoover, an anthropologist at the University of California at Berkeley, has come under fire and faced calls to resign after admitting to falsely claiming Indigenous heritage. Hoover, who has been an associate professor since 2000, is known for her research on food justice in Native American communities. She recently published a letter of apology on her personal website.

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Prominent US Anthropologist Admits to False Native American Claims, Faces Calls for Resignation

Key takeaways:

  • Elizabeth Hoover, a UC Berkeley anthropologist, has apologized for falsely claiming Indigenous heritage, sparking discussions on identity misappropriation.
  • Hoover’s case highlights the issue of “Pretendians,” where white Americans co-opt racial and ethnic identities for personal gain, often acting as a form of colonialism.
  • The controversy underscores the importance of accurate representation and the need for greater awareness and accountability in verifying claims of Indigenous heritage.

Hoover had claimed Native American heritage throughout her life and acknowledged benefiting from academic fellowships, opportunities, and material advantages as a result of being perceived as a Native scholar. The Los Angeles Times reported that Hoover stopped identifying as Mohawk and Mi’kmaq last year after inquiries into her background. Her research into her ancestry failed to find any records verifying tribal connections in her family.

In her apology, Hoover stated, “I am a white person who has incorrectly identified as Native my whole life, based on incomplete information.” She acknowledged causing harm to Native people, fracturing trust, and perpetuating historical harms. This incident contributes to the ongoing debate over white Americans co-opting racial and ethnic identity for personal gain, with critics referring to them as “Pretendians.” Indigenous communities argue that such actions exploit tribal ancestry and represent a form of colonialism.

Hoover’s case is not unique; other high-profile individuals have faced similar controversies over false claims of Indigenous heritage. Senator Elizabeth Warren apologized to the Cherokee Nation four years ago, ahead of her run for presidency, after a backlash regarding her release of DNA results to prove her claimed Native American ancestry. Additionally, following the death of activist and actor Sasheen Littlefeather, family members alleged that she had faked her Native American ancestry. Littlefeather, born Marie Louise Cruz, had received a formal apology from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for mistreatment she faced at the Oscars in 1973 when she stood in for Marlon Brando to refuse the best actor award.

These incidents have fueled broader conversations around the issue of white Americans co-opting racial and ethnic identities for personal gain. Critics argue that this practice, often referred to as “Pretendians,” capitalizes on Indigenous heritage for personal benefit and acts as a form of colonialism. As more Americans self-identify as Native American on the US census, Indigenous communities are calling for greater awareness and accountability for those who misrepresent their ancestral backgrounds.

The Hoover case serves as a reminder of the importance of accurate representation and the need for institutions and individuals to be diligent in verifying claims of Indigenous heritage. Furthermore, it highlights the ongoing challenges faced by Indigenous communities in protecting their identities and histories from misappropriation and exploitation.

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