Last Tuesday, nominally progressive online news vehicle The Huffington Post published a disappointing and misinformed article by Tim Giago, president of the South Dakota Unity Foundation as well as the founder and publisher emeritus of Indian Country Today. Elegantly outlining the many problematic practicalities related to false claims of indigenous heritage, Giago titularly asserts, "Claiming Indian heritage does not make it so," and subsequently leverages his analysis to ascribe moral differentiation to the two most notable Native impostors of the last decade: UC Boulder academic Ward Churchill and Massachusetts political aspirant Elizabeth Warren.
Considering the history of the website for which he is writing, it is perhaps almost inevitable that bewildering pivots of logic and significant factual errors would creep into the manifesto. After all, Arianna Huffington's media powerhouse has regularly promulgated the fiction that Elizabeth Warren's 1/32 blood quantum is matter of incontrovertible truth. Although parroted by Mr. Giago, this fabrication is no closer to substantiation than it was four months ago. Similarly, the contention that Harvard Law's favorite staffer never gleaned advantage from her spontaneous mid-life rediscovery of a passion for family rumor continues to strain credulity and deflect attention from the more alarming dimensions of the controversy.
However insidiously self-serving Mr. Churchill's writings appear in the context of his extended pantomime, it is undeniable that he has devoted his career and personal life to amassing an encyclopedic knowledge regarding the history and evolution of the indigenous community in the United States. In addition to penning or contributing to fourteen books on related subjects, he has additionally participated as an activist in the American Indian Movement of Colorado for over a quarter of a century. By contrast, Professor Warren has responded on the campaign trail to overtures from Natives with combative guardedness, if not transparent antagonism.
Of course, unlike her counterpart, Cambridge's most famous would-be Delaware-Cherokee has managed to suppress any definitively damning paperwork that affirms she acquired tenure in a "special opportunity position." But as I have previously asserted, the chance to racially self-identify in explicitly professional circumstances is an instrument of affirmative action aspirations. Institutions and employers prompt questions of ethnicity in the idealistic spirit of accounting for the unpalatable realities of an unbalanced societal playing field and assembling the most intellectually nourishing environment possible. The sudden decision of an established late-thirtysomething legal scholar to advertise unconfirmed ancestry completely void of tribal association reflects a peculiar expression of pride when contrasted against her prior lifelong practice of self-determination as a Caucasian and her current disdain for Indian sentiments that fail to bolster her play for power.
It is perplexing, to say the least, that Mr. Giago excoriates a hyperbolically tragicomic pretender with truncated influence like Churchill while exonerating a prominent aspirant to legislative office whose dishonorable contempt for Native Americans persists to this day. For someone who punctuates the distinction between blood and legacy with a metaphorical exclamation point, he demonstrates little appreciation for the extent to which conduct illuminates functional cultural character. More disquietingly, the inaccuracies he has disseminated will reverberate in the public discourse for the indeterminate future; one fallacy breeds another. To borrow the formula invoked by the author: irresponsibly perpetuating misconceptions do not make them sound, and myths cannot be so easily transfigured into reality.
Educated at Dartmouth College and Columbia University, Cole DeLaune is a native of Oklahoma and Tennessee. He is a member of the Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma.
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