Professor resigns after allegedly faking Native American identity


Riverside ethnic studies professor Andrea Smith will be leaving her position at the University of California after years of accusations from colleagues and others that she was fraudulently claiming a Native American identity, according to a Friday article from Inside Higher Ed.

Nick Estes, a Lower Brule Sioux Tribe member and author of the book Our History Is the Future, posted Smith’s termination agreement to X, formally known as Twitter. 

The agreement states that it “constitutes resolution of the allegations in the Complaint.”

UC, Riverside, in the document, agreed not to open any additional investigations or take additional disciplinary steps against Smith in relation to accusations of a fraudulent ethnic heritage.

Smith, for her part, agreed to “not make any affirmative claims of Native American heritage in connection with her University work for the duration of her University employment.” If however, she is asked about her Native American heritage, she is allowed to give her own opinion on the subject.

A Navajo ceremonial dance. (credit: FLICKR)

Often applied to people facing accusations similar to those facing Smith is the term, “pretendian.”

Author of It’s All about the Land: Collected Talks and Interviews on Indigenous Resurgence, Gerald Taiaiake Alfred, explains in a post on X that “the term Pretendian refers to white people who fraudulently claim to be Native to take positions and benefits intended for us.”

More condemnation of Smith from Native American voices

Smith’s allegedly fraudulent claim of having Native American heritage has sparked a torrent of fury online from many other Native American voices as well.

Navajo Nation member Jacqueline Keeler, author of Standoff: Standing Rock, the Bundy Movement, wrote about Smith on X stating, “So the first university, UC Riverside, has released a Pretendian professor. Andrea Smith [was] outed in the @nytimes in 2021 for being a PRETENDIAN.”

Keeler goes further. Speaking to Inside Higher Ed, she stated that “Academia is basically a Pretendian factory.”

Inside Higher Ed reported that Smith nevertheless maintains that her Native American heritage is authentic. 

“I have always been, and will always be Cherokee,” Smith reportedly wrote on her blog. “I have consistently identified myself based on what I knew to be true. My enrollment status [on the official list of Cherokee nation members] does not impact my Cherokee identity or my continued commitment to organizing for justice for Native communities.”

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