Anthropology lecturer Elizabeth Hoover admitted to lying about her heritage for “material benefits”
A University of California at Berkeley anthropologist has apologized for falsely claiming to be of indigenous descent, stating that she did so to access funding and academic opportunities that would have been off limits to a white professor. Despite the apology, other academics now want her sacked.
In a letter posted to her personal website on Monday, Elizabeth Hoover admitted that she was “a white person who has incorrectly identified as Native my whole life.” Hoover said that she had been told growing up that she was descended from Mohawk and Mi’kmaq Indians, but chose not to seek out “documented connection to these communities.”
Hired as an associate professor in 2000, Hoover continued to pretend she was Native American. In her letter, she explained that in a liberal university like Berkeley, this allowed her into “programs or funding opportunities that were identity-related,” and granted her “academic fellowships, opportunities, and material benefits” that she wouldn’t have received as a white woman.
In her lengthy apology letter, Hoover said that her lies “hurt Native people who have been my friends, colleagues, students, and family, both directly through fractured trust and through activating historical harms.”
Hoover researched her genealogy last year and discovered no connection to the tribes that she claimed. In a letter last October, the Los Angeles Times reported, she stated that she would no longer “claim to be a scholar of Mohawk / Mi’kmaq descent.” That announcement led to a letter signed by 375 academics and Native American spokespeople calling on her to apologize and “come out as white,” which she finally did on Monday.
She did not, however, offer to resign from her position which according to salary tracking site Glassdoor earns her up to $228,000 per year.
Some of her fellow academics took issue with this. Desi Small-Rodriguez, an assistant professor of sociology and American Indian studies at UCLA, wrote in a tweet that the university should fire her for “professional misconduct, research ethics violations, [and] harming Native students & colleagues.”
Hoover is neither the first nor the most famous white American to masquerade as a racial minority. Former US Senator Elizabeth Warren claimed Cherokee ancestry while teaching at Harvard in the early 1990s, and listed herself as an “American Indian” while practicing law in Texas in the 1980s. However, amid relentless mockery from US President Donald Trump in 2018, Warren took a DNA test that revealed she was only 1/1,024th Native.
Three years earlier, Rachel Dolezal, a white woman, resigned as an African Studies lecturer and president of a National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) chapter in Washington when her parents publicly stated that she was pretending to be black.