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Andrea Smith’s Statement on the Current Media Controversy | andrea smith’s blog

Reblogged from Andrea Smith’s blog.

My Statement on the Current Media Controversy
July 9, 2015

by Andrea Smith

To the academic and social justice organizing communities which I have been part of for many years, and to whom I am indebted:

I have always been, and will always be Cherokee. I have consistently identified myself based on what I knew to be true. My enrollment status does not impact my Cherokee identity or my continued commitment to organizing for justice for Native communities.

There have been innumerable false statements made about me in the media. But ultimately what is most concerning is that these social media attacks send a chilling message to all Native peoples who are not enrolled, or who are otherwise marginalized, that they should not publicly work for justice for Native peoples out of fear that they too may one day be attacked. It is my hope that more Indigenous peoples will answer the call to work for social justice without fear of being subjected to violent identity-policing. I also hope the field of Native studies might attend to disagreement and difference in a manner that respects the dignity of all persons rather than through abusive social media campaigns.

Out of respect for the dignity and privacy of my family, and out of concern for the damage that these attacks have had on my students, colleagues, and organizing communities, I will direct my energies back to the work of social justice.

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A running table of contents of articles on this blog…

Against Politics of Disposability

We stand against disposability, which is the political practice of disposing an individual of their personhood under the assumptive logic that the rest of humanity will be better off.  To be clear, it is a political practice that authorizes one person or a select group of people to choose who is disposable and who is not.  We do not support any practice of disposability — regardless of the political goal or what side of a debate we are on.  Disposability is not a form of sovereignty, it is a reproduction of the violence of the settler state.  We push back against any conflation of accountability with public shaming, especially when the shaming is en masse.  Such conflations appropriate the language of accountability and erases the community organizers and activists who have spent decades of their lives developing and fostering transformative justice and community accountability practices for themselves, their communities, and their movements.  We are angered by those who took a conversation amongst native feminists to an online platform and rallied people to participate in making indigeneity a spectacle.  To be clear, our position on people of color solidarity asks that you not erase all of the native feminists who are critical of the public shaming of Andrea Smith and recognize that native feminists and other feminists of color did not choose to enter this debate on indigeneity but were brought into it by those who used online platforms to enact racial policing.  The genesis of the “Andrea Smith is Not a Cherokee” tumblr and the meme of Smith’s face next to Rachel Dolezal used anti-black violence as the basis of comparison.  Now, so many of us have had to exhaust our time and emotions because our own narratives (as organizers, students, colleagues, and friends) were forced into this larger act of public shaming.  We did not choose this, we do not accept this, and we support anyone who has had to carry a burden that others are responsible for forcing onto them.  We ask that those waging attacks, and the broader public that is following them, refrain from damning an individual for not putting out an immediate response.  We should not assume any knowledge nor should we participate in such a public and violent discourse.  These stories were not meant for public consumption, yet natives are always expected to willingly give whatever is asked of them.  This call needs to be refused.

– Editors

Rachel Dolezal and Andrea Smith: On the Politics of Racial Identity and “Passing” from a Critical Mixed-Race Studies Perspective

by Andrew Jolivétte


Let me begin by stating that the recent comparisons between Rachel Dolezal and Andrea Smith are deeply problematic and troubling for a number of reasons.

1. Smith unlike Dolezal grew up being told she was Cherokee, she did not invent this identification as a child.

2. The politics of tribal enrollment and citizenship, especially within the Cherokee Nation are deeply politicized, racist, and in my view Eurocentric to say the least (see Sturm, Blood Politics).

3. Smith has not held official appointments in Native American Studies, unlike Dolezal who held positions in African American organizations. While Smith has held positions in Native organizations, this was not her source of employment.

4. Passing functions differently in Native and Black contexts and while both benefit from supposedly passing the issue of who is and who is not Indian is much more tied to state and federal laws both historic and contemporary that seek to limit the number of Indians while increasing the number of Blacks. In other words kill the Indian through a paper genocide so no one can be an Indian unless the U.S. Government approves and anyone with Black blood is black according to the U.S. Government so that they can be thoroughly disenfranchised.

5. When the Cherokee were removed in the 1830s not all Cherokee left many remained, unrecognized in their original homelands but we both native and non-native academics tend to favor the enrolled to the detriment of the unrecognized (I.e., California Indians especially in Northern California who are also “Not Indian” like Smith for the very same reasons). I’m not going to sugarcoat this. Smith like the Ohlone are Not recognized because of a government system that seeks to erase Indian people, especially mixed-race Indians. This happens throughout the United States and Latin America where blackness is in fact used to erase Indian blood, while whiteness in Indian country is rarely questioned.
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Statement from Craig Womack

In regards to the controversy surrounding Andrea Smith, I feel I have two choices: either I trust things forwarded to me over social media that are full of claims I have no way of substantiating or I can read her work. I choose the latter and not the former. While relying on her work instead of forwarded posts may be fraught with its own set of problems, it is what I choose. I find her work to be an impressive combination of deep scholarship and a substantial activist commitment, empowered by a unique turn of mind that is often demonstrated by an investigation of areas other people won’t touch. To my way of thinking the work is vital and indispensable.

Statement from Klee Benally (Diné/Russian-Polish)

‪#‎Istandwithandreasmith‬ ‪#‎gotyourback‬

Off social media most of the day and now back to a witch hunt against fierce feminist author and friend, Andy Smith. While I’m not privy to all that’s been published, so far I’ve read tequilasovereign’s (aka Joanne Barker) tumblr and a couple others. tequilasovereign’s statements eerily evoke cointel-pro badjacketing rather than Indigenous feminism. Reading it I couldn’t help ask myself, what interests are served via this pillory?

When Ward Churchill’s identity was called into question it clearly served a conservative agenda. My position then was that his identity is between him and the creator and an issue for his family and Nation to address internally through their own cultural process. After all, the primary issues regard accountability, colonialism, and white supremacy. I still maintain that his political contributions shouldn’t be uncritically thrown out when challenged with the colonial institution of “blood-quantum.”

Accountability on Indigenous terms figures quite different than putting someone on a social media blast. Certainly ethnic fraud should be critically addressed regarding Indigenous (mis)representation but is this the proper way and venue to address matters that have such serious implications? Perhaps we should also consider the standard set by Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma’s shit politics regarding anti-black dis-enrollments? It’s further concerning how the logic of this applies to non-Federally recognized Indigenous Peoples too, what are the standards for Indigenous academic purity there?

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Blood Policing, by Cedric Sunray

David Shorter states in his 7/1/15 editorial slam piece against Andrea Smith, “Four Words for Andrea Smith: I’m Not an Indian”,

“But the value of the conversation will only emerge if we must start first with honesty. That’s the power of saying what we know to be true.”

I have met Andrea on one occasion when she was speaking at the University of Oklahoma College of Law.  She was a co-editor on a recent anthology from the University of Arizona Press which I had an essay in.  The title of this essay was Blood Policing.  How very timely indeed.   Clearly, I don’t know Andrea Smith in the way that these sometimes anonymous and sometimes not bloggers purportedly do.

But what I do know “if we must start first with honesty” as the venerable Professor Shorter states, is that what is missing from these conversations is just that.  So let us start with Professor Shorter who says he is Mexican, but not Indian.  A ton of my Mexican friends will want to kick the guy in his teeth as soon as they read that strange line of reasoning as they absolutely identify as Indian.  Okay, so that one is settled.  On to the next…and please note that everything I am writing here today are words I have been writing about for years and have spoken of directly to the insulting parties.

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Why Realness Fails Us in Native Studies

Chris Finley

In the shadow of the Rachel Dolezal scandal, mostly non-Cherokee Indigenous academics have raised an alarm about Andy Smith’s identity once again.  I want to point out that it is mostly tenured faculty that are doing this.  I want to know why you have an investment in Andy’s identity in particular.  Indian identity has always been heavily policed.  Usually it was the settlers trying to undo us, but in this case, it is ourselves.  This is the part that makes me truly sick.  There isn’t a settler in sight but there is a massacre occurring.  It isn’t only Andy who is hurt and scared by this discussion.  I know if my identity was held up to a microscope or even a magnifying glass, I would fail spectacularly.  I don’t speak my language, I don’t make it home much, I don’t eat venison because I’m a vegetarian (total Indigenous failure!), I don’t even like camping, I haven’t had sexual relations with an Indian in over 5 years, and I never wear turquoise jewelry.  Sure, I’m enrolled, but as an Indigenous person my identity is always scrutinized and measured.  (People often ask me for my blood quantum or specific questions about my cultural practices.)  As a Native woman, my identity and civility are always under attack.  Native men in the academy do not have their identities and work scrutinized as much as Native women do.

Andy Smith has done more for Indigenous people than I ever will and this is not because I think she blocked me but I just never had the energy she had to dedicate every waking moment to ending oppression.  To me the question or desire should not be for a self-confession from Andy about what went wrong or what she is or is not, because I think her actions speak louder than that.  My desire is for Indigenous people to stop tearing each other apart and to stop attacking someone who really tried to do some good.  Why didn’t so many people call out Kevin Costner when he was adopted by the Rosebud Nation and then built a casino and that was not about sovereignty or decolonization.  I tell you, I saw Andy go through her tenure battle at Michigan and the institution would have never treated a white woman that way, but it most certainly would have done so to a Native feminist.

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Statement from Tawna Barnett-Little (Muscogee Creek/Seminole)

First, I will identify who I am unlike the rest of these coward academics hiding behind anonymous online spaces.

Tanuce cv hocefkvt omen vm liketvt konepvlket on vm etvlwvt kvlicet os. Momen ocesvlke ecustet owis mon nokosvlke ecuste owis. Este-cate sofvckat owis.

My name is Tawna Little and I am a FULL-BLOOD – Muscogee Creek/Seminole woman (YES, I am enrolled/CDIB carrying) from the Skunk clan, and a daughter of the Bear clan. I was raised and still reside in my community; i’m a ceremonial practitioner and a language revitalizationist. My family has maintained strong ties and leadership roles in Muscogee ceremonial, church, and political life. I hold a degree in Native Studies from the University of Oklahoma.

I am not interested in entertaining silly online identity attacks that seem to consume your academic careers in order to make you feel personally more authenticated as Indigenous persons, HOWEVER, Andrea Smith is a long time dear friend of my family and your actions are beyond offensive and belittling to someone we deeply care about. Thus, I wish to lend my support to Andy by speaking truth while you all continue to act as bullies and process your own insecurities.

I want to point out that my family has long visited Cherokee ceremonial grounds (quite regularly during some seasons) to lend support in participation just as Cherokee ceremonial practitioners have long done the same during our Muscogee ceremonial dances. I have never seen any of these Andrea Smith-attackers in attendance at Cherokee ceremonies; none of them are Cherokee speakers nor are they ceremonial practitioners; most of these folks are of minimal blood quantum and look white. In fact, these very kind of identity police are who traditional ceremonial practitioners get a good laugh at.

I should also make a disclaimer here that I do not uphold blood-quantum, tribal enrollment and phenotype as authenticating markers of Indigenous identity; I am however very much aware that the only factor distinguishing Andrea Smith from her attackers is a tribal enrollment card. What else signifies these attackers as Indigenous? Who employed them as the authority on Cherokee identity? It certainly wasn’t the grass roots Cherokee persons with whom I fellowship. If I felt like participating in these kinds of colonial games instead of working to save my language from extinction and participating in my ceremonies in order to maintain the essence of my Muscogee identity, I would endeavor to call out all of these insecure “native” academics on their whiteness. Why do these attackers not speak their languages? Why weren’t they raised in traditional ceremonial ways? Why are they living far from their communities to pursue selfish academic positions? It’s because life is complicated! Moreover, historical realities are often ugly. For these same reasons I even find compassion for these hateful acting persons. Just because Andrea Smith’s ancestors did not enroll in the Cherokee Nation during the Dawes era does not mean she does not have the right to identify as Cherokee. It sounds as though you all are upholding Cherokee enrollment as the ultimate standard for Cherokee identity and the right to claim Cherokee identity. If so, that means you uphold an individual with a blood quantum of 1/4,096 (the last I heard it was the lowest recorded Cherokee Nation blood quantum, meaning the last full-blood in the family was 15 generations ago), who may have never even seen or interacted with another native person in their life, as somehow more legitimately Indigenous than an individual that grew up knowing she was Indigenous from oral tradition (but not enrolled) in her family and accepted a responsibility to engage social justice advocacy for Indigenous Peoples.

All academics have shortcomings and it amazes me that you choose to attack Andy’s identity as her shortcoming and take it to this level. That’s the best you could do in finding something to call her out on? How pitiful. Why not go after her scholarship, her arguments? Oh yeah, because they’re brilliant! And her work is used in both grass roots organizing spaces and academic settings. Testimonies of Indigenous female rape survivors have asserted Andy’s work to be healing and empowering. Andrea and her sister Justine have both been extraordinarily positive voices in my life as well as other members of my family. This also rings true during times of hardship when their words have been encouraging and they have been physically present in our lives…..oh, remember that I said i’m a FULL-BLOOD (black haired-brown skinned-Indian looking individual unlike the rest of these insecure-in-your-identity-academic-mixed-bloods who I would not have criticized until you decided to exercise identity policing) which means that Andrea does hang out with Native People, contrary to previous blogging claims that she does not hang around other Natives. Many others can attest to that as well.

As we say in Muscogee, “mistvlke fekcahke owet fullet owes” (they are going about in a jealous way). I guess if my academic scholarship was lacking, I might also develop jealousy toward Andrea Smith. So, attacking her identity on grounds of not having an enrollment card and “misrepresenting herself” is an easy target eaten up by non-grass roots Indigenous Peoples and is something that only mainstream whites and insecure Natives seem to care about. It is obvious that these attackers do not know Andrea and her personal family challenges, particularly those surrounding her lineage. Trying to survive in academia can be brutal in Native Studies arenas where everyone wants to be Indianer-than-thou. I am altogether compassionate toward her claim/misunderstanding about enrollment in the Cherokee Nation. That doesn’t dismiss her exceptional work, commitment to social justice and desire to end global oppression. Andrea does not claim to be a Cherokee cultural or language expert and these attackers evidently have fooled folks into thinking they are somehow culturally and linguistically superior to Andy in their Native identity. Wow, that’s a joke! Andrea has not used her Cherokee identity as a way to promote herself; rather, she identifies with what she was told her identity is growing up and she participates in social justice advocacy- for people other than herself. In fact, she went to law school to defend those who cannot defend themselves. Andrea has made INCREDIBLE personal sacrifices for her family and herself in order to fight for justice, and anyone that attempts to discredit her clearly does not get the whole picture. The virtues of my Muscogee People (vnokeckv, eyasketv, mehenwv, kvncvpkv) do not support this kind of hateful behavior. It sounds like most of these attackers are without traditional teachings from their respective nations; they have yet to learn how to live on this earth.