University of California-Berkeley 'pretendian' professor under fire to resign

AP Photo/Eric Risberg, File

A pretendian, in this case, is a white person who falsely claims to have Indigenous ancestry in order to profit. A professor at the University of California-Berkeley is under fire for being a pretendian. Sociology professor Elizabeth Hoover has apologized after confirming ‘I am a white person.’

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This is another case of a white woman identifying as a Native American and exploiting that false identity for profit or personal gain. On Monday, Elizabeth Hoover issued a lengthy statement that was meant to be an apology. However, more than 300 students and professors are calling on her to resign.

Hoover said she never knowingly falsified her identity or meant to deceive anyone. ‘I’m a human. I didn’t set out to hurt or exploit.’ She said she identified as Native American her whole life but now confirms she is not actually a member of the Mohawk and Mi’kmaq tribes as she had been told as she was growing up in upstate New York. That is the kind of excuse that Senator Elizabeth Warren gave when she was confronted about her claim to be of Native American ancestry. Warren claimed her mother told her she was Native American – and she had high cheekbones.

This controversy has been going on for months. In October 2022, Hoover admitted she had no documents to prove her ancestry. She was hired by UC – Berkeley in 2020 as part of a diversity program. She specializes in environmental justice in Native American communities. On her new personal website, she issued her statement and said she will no longer claim Mohawk and Mi’kmaq ancestry. She is being labeled a pretendian.

“…Now, without any official documentation verifying the identity I was raised with, I do not think it is right for me to continue to claim to be a scholar of Mohawk/Mi’kmaq descent, even though my mother is insistent that she inherited this history for a reason,” Hoover stated.

“As such, I have been approaching my friends, collaborators, students, colleagues, and members of the general public, to share this information about my identity and to re-form these relationships as needed.”

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UC -Berkeley was pleased to tout her hiring as a part of a diversity cluster of hiring to address equity and justice. At the time the university described Hoover as a “new Native American faculty member in ESPM and one of 11 self-identified Native American/Alaska Native ladder-rank faculty members at Berkeley.” Now she is claiming to be a victim. Because, of course, she is. That is how this works, right? People get caught scamming the system and then they cry victimhood.

“More recently, Hoover said people who have been raising doubts about her background are the ones causing ‘damage.’ Internet messages seen … indicate that she considers herself a victim, even though she now admits her decades-long claims of being Mohawk and Mi’kmaq are unsupported by her own research,” the website stated.

She has reaped the benefits of her alleged Native American ancestry through the years.

Hoover has long claimed she was descended from the Mohawk and Mi’kmaq peoples of eastern Canada and the United States — even referencing that heritage in news accounts and while researching her doctoral dissertation for Brown University.

She also used the identity to win prestigious jobs, grants and fellowships, to publish books and papers, and to become a prominent voice in the ‘food sovereignty’ movement for Native cultures, critics claim.

Many Native Americans are now calling on her to resign. They say her apology is not enough.

They say having Hoover serve as a professor at Berkeley raises questions amongst Native American scholars about the school’s academic integrity and respect for Native identity.

‘The waves of harm extending from this are immense and difficult to capture,’ Adrienne Keene, an assistant professor at Brown who authors the online forum Native Appropriations, and who was once good friends with Hoover, tweeted.

Mohawk scholar Audra Simpson, an anthropology professor at Columbia University also argued Hoover’s professional history shows she ‘lacks the requisite ethical and academic integrity to be a professor or a social scientist.’

She said the controversy could hurt Berkeley’s reputation in Native circles, telling the Press-Telegram: ‘This is a matter of misconduct with wide-reaching effects.

‘Whether intentional or not, she has committed a form of fraud [and] she has benefitted from doing so,’ Simpson said, explaining that it is possible that Hoover took jobs, fellowships or grants away from actual Native peoples.

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She also identifies as someone of European heritage.

Hoover had also said she always identified herself as “someone of mixed Mohawk, Mi’kmaq, French, English, Irish, and German descent and identity.”

In the initial statement, Hoover detailed how she grew up with the belief her great-grandmother was a Mohawk woman and was brought to “pow-wows, ceremonies, and food summits” to feel connected to her mother’s family background.

Hoover said she faced many accusations regarding her heritage throughout her career as a professor at Elizabethtown College, St. Olaf College and Brown University.

She admits that her claims of Native American ancestry gave her access to spaces and resources she would not have had otherwise.

One researcher said she sent Hoover information on her ancestry in June 2022 and is now coming forward to expose her lies.

One scholar pointed out that Hoover’s lies resulted in taking away opportunities from real Native Americans.

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Mohawk scholar Audra Simpson, an anthropology professor at Columbia University also argued Hoover’s professional history shows she ‘lacks the requisite ethical and academic integrity to be a professor or a social scientist.’

She said the controversy could hurt Berkeley’s reputation in Native circles, telling the Press-Telegram: ‘This is a matter of misconduct with wide-reaching effects.

‘Whether intentional or not, she has committed a form of fraud [and] she has benefitted from doing so,’ Simpson said, explaining that it is possible that Hoover took jobs, fellowships or grants away from actual Native peoples.

Hoover knew she was benefitting from a false narrative about her life, yet she continued to do so. She continued the lie even after a researcher provided her with evidence that she was not Native American. It appears she is only now apologizing because the walls are closing in on her. The honorable thing to do would be to resign and allow a true Native American to take her place. She should completely come clean and then make a fresh start elsewhere.

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David Strom 7:00 AM | May 18, 2024
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