Professor resigns after being accused of claiming false Cherokee descent

A prominent ethnic studies professor accused of falsely claiming to be Cherokee is stepping down from her post at the University of California Riverside — and she’s getting a soft landing.

A prominent ethnic studies prof who was accused of falsely declaring to be Cherokee resigns from her position at the University of California Riverside. She’s getting off with a gentle landing.

According to a release from the university, Andrea Smith will not only be allowed to continue teaching there until August 2024 but she’ll also get to retain her retirement benefits as well as the title of Professor Emeritus.

Smith may continue to claim to be Cherokee, but only when asked.

UC Riverside Andrea Smith.

According to the agreement, “Professor Smith has agreed to refrain from making any affirmative claims about her Native American heritage while she is employed at the university.” If asks about Professor Smith’s heritage, she is allowed to give her opinion.

Riverside also agreed to pay Smith up to $5,000 in legal fees and has halted any investigations into the allegations which led the professor to leave.

The agreement was reached after a faculty complaint that Smith had fraudulently claimed Native American ancestry, the university stated in a Monday statement by John Warren. The nine-page agreement brings an end to Professor Smith’s employment at the university.

Smith, 57 years old, didn’t respond to her calls at her home or the university for a comment on the deal which will end her career as a university professor next year.

Smith hasn’t revealed anything about her family history, but in a blog post from 2015 she condemned “identity police.”

“I am and always will be Cherokee.” She wrote, “I have always identified myself according to what I believed was true.”

The agreement, which was first published on Instagram on August 17 by a Native American activist named Jacqueline Keeler states that Smith fell after the university received a complain on August 23, 2022. 13 UC Riverside professors claimed that Smith “made fraudulent claims of Native American identity.” NBC News acquired a copy from the university.

The agreement states that “no formal University investigation has taken place and no findings as to the validity of the accusations have been made.” Professor Smith disputes and denies the allegations in the Complaint.

According to the University, the agreement was signed by Smith and the University on January 11, 2023.

In 2008, the University of Michigan caused a stir when it denied her tenure.

Angela Davis , a political activist at the time, described Smith as “one the greatest Indigenous feminist intellects of our times.”

Steve Russell, an academic and Cherokee writer, reported in a column published by Indian Country Today on April 8, 2008 that Smith had not been registered as a Cherokee Nation member. His column was “When Does Ethnic Fraud Matter?”

NBC News contacted the Cherokee Nation in order to find out if Smith had registered with them. They did not receive a reply. According to the Cherokee Indian Center, having Cherokee blood is not the same as being a member of the tribe.

The organization’s website states that “registration in the Dawes Rolls, the national registry formerly known as the Dawes Rolls, has become critical in matters of Indian citizenship and lands claims.” Many people didn’t sign up for these rolls, because they were afraid of government persecution if the ethnicity was officially entered into the system.

Smith was appointed a tenured professor at Riverside University in 2008. However, the suspicions about her being a non-Native American continued. The New York Times Magazine revisited these allegations in May 2021.

The university’s chancellor Kim Wilcox responded with a statement which did not address Smith’s case directly but emphasized the school’s commitment “to transparency and integrity” in matters of Indigenous identity and affiliation by all members.

Smith continued to work at Riverside University until her colleagues complained.

Smith published an article in 1991 in which she criticized white New Age feminists who tried to “become Indian.”

Smith, writing under the pseudonym Andy Smith, wrote: “When white feminists see how white people oppressed other races and are very close to destroying our planet, they want to dissociate from their whiteness.” They do this by choosing to “become Indian.” This allows them to escape the responsibility and accountability of white racism.

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