Berkeley professor apologizes for claims of Native American ancestry

A professor of anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley, whose identity as a Native American has been questioned for years apologized this week for being mistakenly identified as Native, saying he was “a white man” who live in an identity based on family tradition.

Elizabeth Hoover, associate professor of environmental science, policy and management, said in an apology Posted on Monday on his website that she claims identity as a woman of Mohawk and Mi’kmaq descent but has never confirmed that identity with those communities or researched her ancestry until now.

“I caused the damage,” Hoover wrote. “I have hurt Indigenous people who are my friends, colleagues, students, and family, directly through the destruction of trust and through the activation of historical traumas. This pain has also disrupted the lives and careers of students and teachers. I recognize that I could have prevented all this pain by investigating and confirming my family stories sooner. For this, I am deeply sorry.”

Hoover’s alleged Native origin was questioned in 2021 after his name appeared on an “Alleged Pretendian List.” The list compiled by Jacqueline Keeler, a Native American writer and activist, includes more than 200 names of people who Keeler says falsely claim Native heritage.

Hoover first addressed doubts about his ethnicity last year when he said in an October post on his website that he had conducted genealogical research and found “no records of tribal citizenship for any of my family members in the tribal databases accessed.”

His statement caused an uproar, and some of his former students wrote letters in November asked for his resignation. The letter was signed by hundreds of students and scholars from UC Berkeley and other universities along with members of Native American communities. It also called on him to apologize, stop identifying as Indigenous and acknowledge that he caused harm, among other demands.

“As scholars embedded in the kinship networks of our communities, we see Hoover’s repeated attempts to differentiate himself from residents with similar stories and his claiming to have life experience as a Native person by dancing at powwows is absolutely terrifying,” the letter reads.

Janet Gilmore, a UC Berkeley spokeswoman, said in a statement that she could not comment on whether Hoover faces disciplinary action, saying that discussing it would violate “personnel matters and/or violate the right to privacy, both of which are protected by law.”

“However, we recognize and support ongoing efforts to achieve restorative justice in a way that recognizes and addresses the extent to which this matter has caused harm and distress to members of our community, ” added Gilmore.

Hoover is the latest person to apologize for falsely claiming a racial or ethnic identity.

U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren many Native Americans during her presidential campaign in 2018 when she used the results of a DNA test to try and refute the taunt of former President Donald Trump, who jokingly called her a “fake Pocahontas.”

Despite the DNA results, which showed some evidence of a Native American in Warren’s lineage, perhaps six to 10 generations ago, Warren was not a member of any tribe, and the DNA tests not commonly used as evidence to determine tribal citizenship.

Warren later apologized publicly at a forum on Native American issues, saying he “forgave the harm I did.”

In 2015, Rachel Dolezal has been fired as head of the Spokane, Washington, chapter of the NAACP and was kicked out by a police ombudsman commission after her parents told local media that their daughter was born white but presented herself as black. He also lost his job teaching African studies at Eastern Washington University in nearby Cheney.

Hoover said her identity was challenged after she started her first assistant professor job. He began teaching at UC Berkeley in the Fall of 2020.

“At the time, I interpreted questions about the validity of my Native identity as petty jealousy or people just looking to interfere in my life,” he wrote.

Hoover said he grew up in rural upstate New York thinking of himself as a man of mixed Mohawk, Mi’kmaq, French, English, Irish and German ancestry, and attending food summits and powwows. Her mother shared stories about her grandmother who was a Mohawk woman who married an abusive French-Canadian man and committed suicide, leaving her children to be raised by someone else.

He said he will no longer identify as Indigenous but will continue to help food sovereignty and environmental justice movements in Indigenous communities that have asked him for his support.

In his apology released Monday, Hoover acknowledged that he had benefited from programs and funding aimed at Native scholars and said he was committed to participating in the restorative justice process taking place on campus, “as well as supporting restorative justice processes in other groups that I have been involved in, where I was invited to participate.”

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