Stacy Leeds, Cherokee professor of law, has come up with a novel method of outing those who fraudulently claim to be Indians. Here it is, in the words of Steve Russell, a judge and associate professor of law who is also Cherokee.
Ward Churchill’s case brings it up in our collective face, but most Indians in academia have had the problem of persons who “self-identify” as Indian without anything to back up the identity beyond alleged family oral history.Brilliant. Wonder if anyone will try it.
I have always wondered what difference it makes if the proverbial Cherokee grandmother exists? In what sense is somebody Indian who has to hire a genealogist to find an ancestor? I’m not saying that an adult onset Indian cannot belatedly form tribal ties, but connection to a tribe for such people is the exception rather than the rule.
My own position is that Indian identity is not about what you claim, but rather about who claims you. This is diametrically opposed to Churchill’s idea that self-identification is what counts...
But what is to be done about the fakes, particularly fakes who have tenure in academia? I have participated in many conversations about this, particularly with Cherokees, who seem to be the most common victims. It’s odd to say this, but in my experience Cherokees are most likely to get their identity purloined, but Lakotas are most likely to get their culture stolen – often by the same people...
I wish this idea were mine, but it belongs to Stacy Leeds, a Cherokee law professor at the University of Kansas. I mention it with her permission.
A tribe could bring a lawsuit in tribal court for an injunction against a fake who claims to be a tribal citizen. This kind of fraud harms the tribe’s reputation.
Whoa, the lawyers will say – the tribal court has no jurisdiction. That is true only if the faker is a fake. If the faker challenges tribal jurisdiction on the grounds the faker is not part of the tribal community and not bound by tribal law, there’s the self-admission of fakery. If the individual is a tribal citizen, jurisdiction can be founded both on tribal citizenship and on the fact that misrepresenting the tribe is a tort that has an impact where the tribal court is located. But if the individual is a tribal citizen, chances are we are not having this conversation.
Or, if the faker ignores the tribal court proceedings, the same result follows. The tribe gets a default judgment declaring the faker to be a fake.
Leeds’ idea is nothing short of brilliant. Court orders are public records. These kinds of lawsuits can create public documents that prove to anyone’s satisfaction that an individual is nothing but a member of the Ferengi Clan of the Wanabi Nation. Hire a Ferengi at your own risk.
(Hat tip: Drunkablog.)