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UC Berkeley professor apologizes for wrongly claiming Native American heritage

Elizabeth Hoover, an associate professor in the Environmental Science and Policy Management department at UC Berkeley, said she has been living a lie her entire life, that she is actually white

Native American Chief Headdress
Native American Chief Headdress | Shutterstock

May 5, 2023 9:05am

Updated: May 5, 2023 9:09am

A California professor who based a significant part of her academic identity on the claim she was a Native American woman, has finally confessed the assertion was false.

Elizabeth Hoover, an associate professor in the Environmental Science and Policy Management department at UC Berkeley, said she has been living a lie her entire life, that she is actually white.

She also apologized for violating the trust of the Native American communities she associated with.

In a statement published on her personal website on Monday, Hoover said she “incorrectly identified” herself, a move she based on having “incomplete information.

“In uncritically living an identity based on family stories without seeking out a documented connection to these communities, I caused harm,” Hoover said. “Growing up I did not question who I was told I was, or how I identified,” Hoover said. “But as an adult, as an academic, I should have done my due diligence to confirm that my ancestors were who I was told they were.”

The UC Berkeley professor—a school known for its far left wing views and radical antiwar protests during the 1960s amid the Vietnam War—was able to use her ancestry as a hook since she has written articles and books about Native American issues.

She says until now, she never had clear documentation about her purported Native American ancestry.

Hoover’s Twitter account, which does not appear to have been used since 2020, reveals her participation at multiple Native American protests and events.

She now says her ancestral claims most likely got her access to resources she wouldn’t have if she identified as a white woman instead.

“Before taking part in programs or funding opportunities that were identity-related or geared towards under-represented people I should have ensured that I was claimed in return by the communities I was claiming,” Hoover said.

The California professor previously claimed to be of Mohawk and Mi’kmaq ancestry, tribes that are native to the Northeastern United States, and Canada.

Hoover said she always identified herself as “someone of mixed Mohawk, Mi’kmaq, French, English, Irish, and German descent and identity.”

In her first statement, Hoover said she was raised with the belief her great-grandmother was a Mohawk woman and was brought to “pow-wows, ceremonies, and food summits” to feel connected to her ancestry.

Hoover said she faced many accusations regarding her heritage throughout her career as a professor at Elizabethtown College, St. Olaf College and Brown University.

That story quickly fell apart however, when Adrienne Keene, a friend and assistant professor at Brown University and a Cherokee Nation citizen began investigating Hoover’s background.

“I will say that this work was not particularly difficult nor did it require a lot of specialized knowledge–her story fell apart very quickly, within a few clicks, but the subsequent months were spent trying every avenue to find something that would explain her claims, triangulating and triple checking, looking in new databases, finding more and new documents, or going back another generation,” Keene wrote in her online statement.

For her part, Hoover has continuously tried to apologize, and she is hoping to make amends with the Native American community she identifies with in her heart.

“I hurt Native people who have been my friends, colleagues, students, and family, both directly through fractured trust and through activating historical harms,” she wrote. “This hurt has also interrupted student and faculty life and careers. I acknowledge that I could have prevented all of this hurt by investigating and confirming my family stories sooner. For this, I am deeply sorry.”

While Hoover is seeking to make amends, she may have an uphill battle. According to The Daily Californian, a petition calling for Hoover’s resignation received over 350 signatures last year.

The petition’s status is currently unknown.