California prof latest academic to have claims of Indian heritage debunked

Professor Andrea Smith reportedly asked a a Cherokee genealogist to find out if she had any lineage to the tribe and both times was told she did not.

Professor Andrea Smith reportedly asked a a Cherokee genealogist to find out if she had any lineage to the tribe and both times was told she did not.  (University of California Riverside)

A tenured California professor is the latest academic to be accused of re-writing their personal history when claiming Cherokee heritage.

Andrea Smith, an associate professor at the University of California Riverside and a noted scholar in Native American studies, has been called out by critics who say she, like former Harvard Law professor Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D- Mass., and Ward Churchill, a former University of Colorado professor who infamously likened 9/11 victims to Nazis, used the phony claims to enhance her faculty pedigree.  

"Wannabes like Andrea use the myths of Cherokees hiding in the hills, passing for white or being saved by righteous whites, to perpetuate their lies," said David Cornsilk, a Cherokee genealogist who researched Smith's lineage and found no evidence of Cherokee bloodlines.

"I have consistently identified myself based on what I knew to be true"

- Professor Andrea Smith

Cornsilk, 56, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation who has been employed as a tribal enrollment researcher, wrote in Indian Country Today that Cherokees are generally very well documented, and debunking bogus claims is easy. Although Cornsilk refused to speak to, in his article, he lamented "two centuries of non-Cherokees trying to lay claim to our lands and treasury, if not by force, then by subterfuge." 

Smith, who did not return requests for comment, issued a statement saying her belief was based on "what I knew to be true, " and that she has been "and will always be Cherokee," although she seemed to base her claim to the heritage on her own work and perceptions, rather than her ancestry.

"I have consistently identified myself based on what I knew to be true," she wrote in a July 9 blog post. "My enrollment status does not impact my Cherokee identity or my continued commitment to organizing justice for Native communities."

Terese Marie Mailhot wrote a column in Indian Country Today called, "Cry Me a River, Andrea Smith," in which she compared Smith's claims to those of Rachel Dolezal, the Spokane, Wash., woman who quit as head of the Spokane NAACP after her parents said she was a white woman claiming to be black. Dolezal said she continues to "identify as black."

"White people can all-too-easily say they're Indian, while claiming to be black is a cultural anomaly, a la Rachel Dolezal. It is with this in mind that I can say Andrea Smith is far more insidious a character than Dolezal," Mailhot wrote.

Cornsilk told The Daily Beast late last month that Smith asked him twice in the '90s to dig into her background to find a link, stressing that "her employment depended on finding proof of Indian heritage." Both times, he said, the results showed no lineage to the tribe. When Smith continued to claim Cherokee heritage, Cornsilk said he felt compelled to call out the author of "Conquest: Sexual Violence and American Indian Genocide."

Warren was cited in Harvard Law School as being Native American, and even contributed to a 1984 cookbook titled, "Pow Wow Chow: A Collection of Recipes From Families of the Five Civilized Tribes: Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Seminole." During her contentious 2012 senatorial campaign against Scott Brown, she defended her background to supporters in an email, claiming that the unsubstantiated claims of Cherokee heritage were based on stories told within her family. "What kid asks their grandparents for legal documentation to go along with their family stories?" she wrote.

Churchill, who sparked outrage in the wake of 9/11 when he called victims who perished in the World Trade Center "little Eichmanns," also saw his longtime claims of Cherokee ancestry debunked. Despite the ethnic studies professor's longtime claims, the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians considers him only an honorary "associate" member.

As for Smith, University of California Riverside is standing behind her, telling The Daily Caller she is a teacher of "high merit" and that the school does not consider ethnicity during its hiring.

Edmund DeMarche is a news editor for Follow him on Twitter @EDeMarche.