‘I am a white person’: Berkeley professor admits she has lied her whole life about being Native American

A white California professor is facing massive backlash for having portrayed herself as a Native American when in reality she’s just a standard white lady.

Elizabeth M. Hoover, an associate professor of environmental science, policy and management at the University of California, Berkeley, admitted in an apology letter published Monday that she’s a white woman, not a Native American.

“I am a white person who has incorrectly identified as Native my whole life, based on incomplete information. In uncritically living an identity based on family stories without seeking out a documented connection to these communities, I caused harm,” the apology letter reads.

“I hurt Native people who have been my friends, colleagues, students, and family, both directly through fractured trust and through activating historical harms. 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,” the letter continues.

This surprise revelation traces back to last October when questions about Hoover’s real identity began to arise, prompting her to release an initial statement revealing that she had no definitive proof that she was an American Indian.

She “noted that she came to the conclusion that she cannot claim Indigenous descent after conducting genealogical research in response to recent questions about her identity, which she said she was first alerted to when a draft of a ‘pretendian’ list circulated about a year ago,” UC Berkley’s student-run newspaper, The Daily Californian, reported at the time.

The admission triggered the first round of condemnation and calls for her firing.

The problem is that Hoover has spent her entire career using her false claim of being descended from the Mohawk and Mi’kmaq peoples of eastern Canada and the United States to excel in academia.

“[S]he won prestigious jobs, grants and fellowships, published books and papers and became a mover and shaker in the ‘food sovereignty’ movement,” The Mercury News reported Thursday.

But it appears to have all been predicated on a lie.

In her defense, Hoover has claimed to The Mercury News that “she always assumed she was Native American because that’s what she was told while growing up in upstate New York. She said she never knowingly falsified her identity or tried to deceive anyone.”

“I’m a human. I didn’t set out to hurt or exploit anyone,” she said in her own words.

She made the same case in her initial statement.

“I have always introduced myself as the person my parents had raised me to be—someone of mixed Mohawk, Mi’kmaq, French, English, Irish, and German descent and identity,” the initial statement reads.

Returning to the present, Hoover is now refusing to resign, despite a call for her to resign issued by over 350 Native American scholars and activists, in addition to current and former UC Berkeley students.

“As scholars embedded in the kinship networks of our communities, we find Hoover’s repeated attempts to differentiate herself from settlers with similar stories and her claims of having lived experience as an Indigenous person by dancing at powwows absolutely appalling,” the call to action reads.

“As students at Cal, we are extremely disappointed by the University’s performative statements and inaction. We demand that Elizabeth Hoover resign and seek out a new position based on her true identity. Although we offer steps of accountability, we defer judgment to the communities she has commodified,” it continues.

Hoover, for her part, wants a chance to re-earn everybody’s trust.

“Going forward it is my hope that this apology will open pathways for repair with those who would still choose to be in relationship with me. I have been working with restorative justice facilitators to better understand how members of the UC Berkeley campus community have felt harmed and betrayed, and ways I can work to meaningfully make amends for this. I recognize this will take time and am committed to staying with this process,” her apology letter reads.

UC Berkeley, for its part, appears to be standing beside her.

“[C]ampus spokesperson Janet Gilmore … said the campus is ‘aware of and supports ongoing efforts to achieve restorative justice in a way that acknowledges and addresses the extent to which this matter has caused harm and upset among members of our community,'” according to The Mercury News.


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