An Open Letter to Defenders of Andrea Smith
Indian Country Today
It appears the Andrea Smith apologists are doing everything they can to divert attention from the one thing about her that is important right now, whether or not she is Cherokee. They want to make it about her work, not so. They want to make it about her complexion, not so. They want to make it about blood quantum, not so. Some have even suggested it is about jealousy, not so. The factual basis of all grievances against Andrea Smith, and others like her, begins and ends with whether or not she can prove Cherokee ancestry.
These people don’t know real Cherokees, our history, culture, language and genealogies. They cannot speak intelligently to the question of her authenticity because they have no baseline, which is why they use diversionary tactics. Why would they know real Cherokees when all they see are fakes?
In the 1990s, Andrea Smith sought me out as a Cherokee genealogist, on two separate occasions, to see if she had any connections. My research into Smith’s ancestry showed that her ancestry was not connected to the Cherokee people. In the subsequent years, many have challenged her identity including representatives of the Cherokee Nation. In those ensuing years, she has had ample opportunity to come forth with proof of her Cherokee claims. Instead, she has admitted to not being Cherokee or promised to stop claiming Cherokee; but perhaps because the foundation of her work as a ‘woman of color’ depended upon making others believe her claim she would back paddle and like a drug addict, fall off the truth wagon. As far as I can tell, nothing has changed in the evidence of her ancestry that would lead me to believe she is or even might be of Cherokee descent.
Smith’s supporters don’t like to be shown so lacking in knowledge of all things Indian; unwilling to admit they got duped by Smith. They are fully invested in her web of lies that they are willing to throw tribal sovereignty and self-determination under the proverbial bus. If they adore Smith’s work, more power to ‘em. But do not let your love of one person’s work blind you to the dangers false claims of Indian identity carry within it. Andrea Smith and all those like her are nothing more than the latest incarnation of settler colonial violence. Their apologists and collaborators are nothing new either.
Cherokees are among the best documented people in the world. We probably come in 3rd after royalty and Mormons. Very likely, we are claimed by many more. Our blood quantums range from 4/4 to 1/8192. All are embraced as equal, though not 100% Indian, they are 100% Cherokee. What all real Cherokees have in common is proof of ancestry whether they can enroll or not.
Some have attempted to make this issue on par with the struggle for citizenship by the Cherokee Freedmen whom I support. There is no comparison. The Freedmen appear on the Cherokee Dawes Roll with no Indian blood quantum, whether they were Indians or not, due to virulent racism against blacks of that era. There are today 2800 Freedmen descendants enrolled at Cherokee Nation. They too, whether they have Cherokee Indian blood ancestry or not, are also 100% Cherokee and share a common heritage of proof of their rights with Cherokees by blood.
Most people are not aware that there are 30 rolls made of Cherokees between 1817 and 1914. There are thousands of linear feet of records created by colonials, missionaries, U.S. officials, schools, travelers and newspapers that trace our ancestries to the mid-1700s. Much of this paper trail was created by the tribe itself. The Andrea Smiths, Thomas Kings, Ward Churchills and Rayna Greens out there rely on the ignorance of the general public and even Indian Country regarding how well documented Cherokees actually are. On a sadly comical note, if there were enough Cherokees to produce all the wannabes now claiming to be us, we would have never lost the war!
Wannabes like Andrea use the myths of Cherokees hiding in the hills, passing for white or being saved by righteous whites, to perpetuate their lies. These myths did not originate with Cherokees. They are the product of two centuries of non-Cherokees trying to lay claim to our lands and treasury, if not by force, then by subterfuge. There was no reason for Cherokees to hide from the Trail of Tears when the Treaty of New Echota that caused it provided for voluntary separation from the tribe so those who wanted, could remain in their homes by simply swearing an oath to the U.S. and the state in which they lived. Those Cherokees are well documented on various rolls dating from 1851 to 1924.
When I say someone has no Cherokee ancestry, it’s not just that they or their ancestors are not enrolled. It’s much more complex than that. In my past job as a Cherokee genealogist, I would look at the rolls and documents of course. But I also examine the wider extended family to see if there is any kinship to Cherokees on the roll during the ancestral time frame and in the tribe now.
When Cherokees left the tribe or chose not to enroll, that was a decision at a specific moment in time. They would be on previous rolls. And most importantly, other members of the extended family, aunts, uncles, siblings, parents, grandparents and cousins would be among the tribal members and on the various rolls and records. Just like white Americans find kin in Europe whose ancestors remained, real Cherokees who can’t enroll today have relatives in the tribe. Andrea doesn’t. Not a single Cherokee citizen living today claims her or her family. Either she emerged as a fully formed Cherokee Indian and we must recalibrate our creation story; or the reality is, she isn’t Cherokee.
Andrea Smith isn’t just missing from our tribe, but every generation back to the genesis of America, all of those relatives I mentioned are also MISSING.
That fact speaks loud and clear that not only is Andrea Smith not enrolled, SHE IS NOT A CHEROKEE!
David Cornsilk, 56, is a citizen of the Cherokee Nation and member of the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians in Oklahoma. He has worked as a professional researcher specializing in Cherokee records for the past 30 years. He has been employed by the Cherokee Nation as a tribal enrollment Research Analyst and the Bureau of Indian Affairs as a Genealogical Researcher; as well as owning his own research firm styled Cherokee Genealogical Services.