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  • Yet Another Academic Is In Trouble For Being A Fake Indian

    Several American Indian activists are in an uproar at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, arguing the Ivy League school has become the latest to facilitate an academic’s bogus claims of Indian heritage.

    Last week, Dartmouth announced that it was naming Susan Taffe Reed director of the school’s Native American Program. Taffe Reed’s roles will include being an “advocate” for Indian students, advising the school’s Native American House, and coordinating the school’s annual Powwow event. Taffe Reed, the school proudly noted, is “president” of the “Eastern Delaware Nations” (EDN).

    But many American Indians aren’t happy. Indian activists point out that the EDN isn’t recognized as a real tribe by either the federal government or the state of Pennsylvania, where the “tribe” is based. Instead, the EDN are simply a 501c(3) organization, and even the group’s website acknowledges that “some EDN members are not of Native American descent, but join as social members in support of a family member or to assist EDN in educational outreach and other activities.”

    Even Dartmouth acknowledges that the Eastern Delaware Nations is not federally recognized, and it told Inside Higher Ed the school “understands that there are varying perspectives in the Native American community over what constitutes ethnicity, which is a separate issue from false claims of ethnicity. It is not up to Dartmouth to determine which perspective is correct.”

    But critics say it’s not simply a matter of whether EDN is recognized, but rather whether Taffe Reed can claim any Native identity whatsoever. A blog post on the fittingly-named site FakeIndians published obituaries and birth records for Taffe Reed’s ancestors, arguing that their heritage traced directly back to Ireland with no sign of Indian admixture. Taffe Reed, the site argues, is “a pure home grown total fake!” whose Indian “heritage” is no more than a family hobby.

    Taffe Reed told Inside Higher Ed that some parts of the FakeIndians blog post are incorrect, but hasn’t specified what parts she objects to. She also defended herself by saying that Indian ideas of ethnic identity are “mixed and complex.”

    But several Indians in official tribes aren’t buying it.

    The Facebook page for Native American Alumni at Dartmouth has seen significant anger from Indians who view the hiring as a mistake at best and a slap in the face at worst.

    “If she had gotten this position in her own right, I could swallow this news,” said University of Wyoming professor (and federally-recognized Delaware) Nicky Michael in a comment.  “To advertise and legitimize her is stealing from my people, family and children. Our Elders didn’t suffer for others to finally gain these positions.”

    Bear Christensen, a Cherokee and Dartmouth alum, savaged the school for its two-faced approach to Taffe Reed’s ethnic heritage.

    “[This] is a case where someone has actively embraced and promoted a false cultural connection to give themselves an air of ‘cultural authority’ as a ‘selling point’ for her academic career,” said Christensen. “The NAP program, by choosing to hire her over other qualified candidates (and alumni!) while promoting her ‘ethnic qualifications’ in its [press release], has actively slapped Dartmouth’s Native students and alumni in the face, who have to deal with this nonsense daily.”

    If Taffe Reed is a bogus Indian, she won’t even be the first in the last few months. Back in July, in the wake of the Rachel Dolezal scandal, University of California, Riverside professor Andrea Smith was savaged by Indian activists for advancing her career based on alleged Cherokee heritage she couldn’t verify. (RELATED: Top American Indian Scholar Outed As Fake Indian)

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