Accused of Being a 'Pretendian,' College Prof Comes Clean

Calls emerge for UC Berkeley's Elizabeth Hoover to resign after admitting she's not Native American
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted May 8, 2023 9:54 AM CDT
UC Berkeley Prof: I'm Not Native American After All
In this 2020 image taken from video, Elizabeth Hoover conducts an interview with Indian Country Today.   (Indian Country Today via AP)

A California college instructor accused of falsely claiming Native American ancestry is now admitting she's white and apologizing—and it was one of her closest friends who conducted a good amount of the probing that led to her apology. The hubbub stretches back to February 2021, when Elizabeth Hoover, an associate professor at UC Berkeley who studies Native American foods, ended up on what's known as a "pretendian" list, a documentation of individuals falsely claiming to be Native American. Her friend, Adrienne Keene, offered to help Hoover dig up proof of her roots so she could get everyone off her back about it—except after much research on Keene's part, "the story of her friend's ancestry unraveled," per the Washington Post.

In an open letter last week on the Native Appropriations forum, Keene says when she initially proposed to Hoover that she help her write a statement on her identity "to clear things up," Hoover was dismissive, and Keene simply "pushed the questions away." In February 2022, Keene resurfaced her questions after a Native American organization accused Hoover of fabricating her past, but she says Hoover was still evasive. That's when Keene says she started more aggressively scouring through obituaries, online cemeteries, and genealogical databases for info on Hoover, and in June of last year, Keene sent Hoover a letter (which Keene also shared on Native Appropriations) that presented her findings. In short, she couldn't link Hoover to the Mohawk and Mi’kmaq tribes she claimed to be part of. Keene asked Hoover to explain herself, as "things were starting to not add up."

In October, Hoover issued a statement that she'd done her own research and similarly found no documentation on her Native American ancestry, and that the new info left her and her family "shocked and confused." A month later, a group of Hoover's ex-students and Indigenous academics put out a letter slamming Hoover for her "absolutely appalling" claims and posted a list of demands, including that Hoover "come out as white" and resign her post. On May 1, Hoover did the first part in an open letter of "accountability," though with no mention of resigning. "I am a white person who has incorrectly identified as Native my whole life, based on incomplete information," she wrote, apologizing for the "hurt, harm, and broken trust to the Native community." In a Tuesday response, Keene defends her research, which she says took an "exhausting toll." More from her here; more from Hoover here. (More cultural appropriation stories.)

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