Most of you have heard the Andrea Smith story by now. She's a member of academia who like Elizabeth Warren, US Senator from Massachusetts, claims to be Cherokee. I've not done Smith's genealogy, so I can't comment on her ancestry, but to do so would detract from the real point anyway. Her false claim, like Warren's, is an assault on the sovereignty of all Indian Nations, but specifically the sovereignty of the Cherokee Nation, the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.
False claim? Can we say that without doing her genealogy? Yes because this is not about who Andrea Smith claims, but instead, who claims her. None of the three federally recognized Cherokee tribes claim her, therefore she isn't Cherokee, period.
Despite this, Smith continues to disrespect Cherokees and our tribal sovereignty by saying, "My enrollment status does not impact my Cherokee identity or my continued commitment to organizing for justice for Native communities."
Justice for Native communities? It is impossible to attack our sovereignty and seek justice for us at the same time. A person does one or the other. Smith's words suggest she is taking a pro-Indian position but her actions show this is not true.
In the book, “Becoming Indian: The Struggle over Cherokee Identity in the Twenty-first Century” by Circe Sturm, anthropologist Michael Lambert, a citizen of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians described Cherokee identity politics as a “battle over sovereignty”:
"One of the terrains on which this is being fought is that of how we define “Indian.” The current effort to define Indian as a racial/cultural group is an effort to extinguish Indian sovereignty. The only way for Indian nations to defend and expand their sovereignty is to make exclusive claim to defining who is Indian and what it means to be Indian. If Indians have sovereignty, then culture, behavior, and belief should have nothing to do with who is or is not Indian. After all, we wouldn’t deny someone’s Germanness because they hate sauerkraut, nor would we have the audacity to recognize someone as German simply because they love it. German is what German does. Indian is what Indian does…
What does this have to do with non-enrolled Cherokees identifying as such? I see the basis of claims to Indian identity to be political acts. This is, and has been, a battle over sovereignty. One who bases their claim to Indian identity on any basis other than sovereignty is not taking a pro-Indian position.”
By rejecting the idea that enrollment or citizenship in an Indian Nation is a factor in who is or is not Indian, Andrea Smith is taking an anti-Indian position. That is a direct attack on tribal sovereignty. No matter what Smith says, she is not acting in our best interest. She is not our friend and she is not seeking justice for us. Instead, she's forced us to a national stage where we must defend our tribal sovereignty, and once again, battle to protect one of the only things we Cherokees have left - our identity.
Those are my thoughts for today.
Thanks for reading.
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