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.