SAN FRANCISCO — A University of California, Berkeley anthropology professor, whose identity as a Native American had been in question for years, apologized this week for falsely identifying herself as Native American, saying she is “a white person” who lived an identity based on family tradition.
Elizabeth Hoover, associate professor of environmental science, policy and management, said in an apology posted Monday on his website who claimed an identity as a woman of Mohawk and Mi’kmaq descent, but never confirmed that identity with those communities or researched her ancestry until recently.
“I caused damage,” Hoover wrote. “I hurt native people who have been my friends, colleagues, students, and family, both directly through fractured trust and through triggering historical damage. This pain has also disrupted the lives and careers of students and teachers. I recognize that I could have avoided all this pain by researching and confirming my family’s stories earlier. For this, I am deeply sorry.»
Hoover’s alleged Indian roots came into question in 2021 after his name appeared on a «List of Alleged Suitors». The list compiled by Jacqueline Keeler, a Native American writer and activist, includes more than 200 names of people who Keeler says falsely claim to be Native.
Hoover first addressed questions about his ethnic identity last year when he said in an October post on his website that he had conducted genealogical research and found «no record of tribal citizenship for any of my family members in the tribal databases accessed».
His statement caused quite a stir and some of his former students wrote a letter in November demanding his resignation. The letter was signed by hundreds of students and scholars at UC Berkeley and other universities along with members of Native American communities. He also asked her to apologize, stop identifying as indigenous, and acknowledge that he had caused harm, among other demands.
«As scholars embedded in the kinship networks of our communities, we find Hoover’s repeated attempts to differentiate himself from settlers with similar histories and his claims to have lived through the Indian experience dancing at powwows to be absolutely egregious,» the letter reads.
Janet Gilmore, a spokeswoman for UC Berkeley, said in a statement that she could not comment on whether Hoover faces disciplinary action, saying discussing it would violate «personnel matters and/or violate privacy rights, both of which are protected by law.»
“However, we are aware of and support ongoing efforts to achieve restorative justice in a way that acknowledges and addresses the extent to which this issue has caused harm and unease among members of our community,” Gilmore added.
Hoover is the latest person to apologize for falsely claiming a racial or ethnic identity.
US Senator Elizabeth Warren angered many Native Americans during her 2018 presidential campaign when she used the results of a DNA test to try to refute taunts by then-President Donald Trump, who derisively referred to her as «fake Pocahontas.»
Despite the DNA results, which showed some evidence of a Native American in Warren’s lineage, likely six to 10 generations ago, Warren is not a member of any tribe, and DNA testing is not generally used as evidence to determine tribal citizenship.
Warren later offered a public apology. on a forum on Native American issues, saying that he was «sorry for the harm I’ve caused.»
In 2015, Rachel Dolezal was fired as head of the NAACP chapter in Spokane, Washington, and was expelled from a police ombudsman commission after her father told local media that his daughter was born white but presented like black. She also lost her job teaching African studies at Eastern Washington University in nearby Cheney.
Hoover said her identity was questioned after she started her first job as an assistant professor. She began teaching at UC Berkeley in the fall of 2020.
“At the time, I interpreted inquiries about the validity of my native identity as either petty jealousy or people just looking to interfere in my life,” he wrote.
Hoover said he grew up in rural upstate New York thinking he was a person of mixed Mohawk, Mi’kmaq, French, English, Irish and German ancestry, attending food summits and powwows. His mother shared stories about her grandmother, a Mohawk woman who married an abusive French-Canadian and committed suicide, leaving her children behind for someone else to raise.
She said she would no longer identify as indigenous, but would continue to help with food sovereignty and environmental justice movements in native communities that ask for her support.
In her apology issued Monday, Hoover acknowledged that she benefited from programs and funding directed at native-born scholars and said she is committed to participating in the restorative justice process taking place on campus, «in addition to supporting restorative justice processes.» in other circles in which I have worked”. been involved, where my participation is invited”.