Elizabeth Hoover, an associate professor at the University of California, Berkeley, has been lying about her ethnicity for many years, claiming to be Native American – when in fact she is white.
Now former students are calling for her resignation, claiming that Hoover pretended to be Native American to gain academic and financial benefits.
“I am a white person who has incorrectly identified as Native my whole life, based on incomplete information”, she writes in a letter.
Hoover, who is an associate professor of anthropology at the university, has appeared frequently in the media and academic contexts in recent years. She has been highlighted as an activist and authority on various Native American issues, and her alleged ethnic background as a Native American has received a lot of focus and contributed to her gaining extra legitimacy and attention.
Until her lies were revealed, Hoover identified herself as a descendant of ancestors from the Mohawk and Mi’kmaq tribes, but admits that she never contacted them to “confirm” her ethnicity or otherwise researched her origins.
She started teaching at universities in 2020, claiming to be a Native American. However, the following year this claim was challenged by Native American activists and her name appeared on a list of celebrities and academics who lied about their Native American heritage.
Word of the fictitious Native American identity began to spread and although Hoover initially dismissed the questions as “jealousy”, the pressure grew. She admitted in October 2022 that there were no documents proving that any of her family members had ever belonged to an Indian tribe.
Instead, she claimed that it was her mother who had convinced her children that her grandmother was a Native American and had married a French-Canadian man, and that they were therefore certain that this was the truth.
“She took my sisters and me to ceremonies and powwows as kids to connect us to our heritage”, Hoover has previously claimed.
When the lie about her Native American identity became known, former students at the university began to call for her resignation and for Hoover to acknowledge the damage she had caused to America’s indigenous people – and to stop identifying as Native American from now on.
“By claiming a false identity on grant and job applications, Hoover robbed Indigenous scholars of these opportunities”, according to a petition.
Hoover herself admits that she received “academic fellowships, opportunities and material benefits” that she would not have received had she not been perceived as a native scholar.
This is far from the first time white or Jewish women in the United States have tried to make a career by pretending to be Native American or black, something that is possible because many American institutions have affirmative action programs where ethnicity is crucial when filling positions.
An example of a previous, similar case is Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren who made a big deal about being a Native American descendant and used her Native American heritage for political purposes.
However, once she published a DNA test she had done, it was shown that she only had between 1.56 and 0.097 percent Native American DNA – which is significantly lower than many white Americans who have never identified themselves as Native Americans.