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Cry Me a River, Andrea Smith

Watching two Native academics come to a consensus about Andrea Smith is like watching two eagles fight. No, wait, I mean egos. After Andrea Smith was outed for the second time as being non-Native, several Native academics leapt to save her from scrutiny. “Focus on more positive things,” they said. “Let’s not criticize her, because she’s done so much good for the community.” I’m done with that discourse. It’s time to be upset. White people can all-to-easily say they’re Indian, while claiming to be black is a cultural anomaly, ala Rachel Dolezal. It is with this in mind that I can say Andrea Smith is far more insidious a character than Dolezal.

For years Smith has been conjuring her fake spirit animal to cry wolf, acting like she’s one of the many Indian women who face violence and subjugation. It’s a little too generous to say Smith was lead to believe she was Indian. I mean, good lord, nobody told me I was an Indian. When my mom found out we were part Irish, she read a bunch of Irish literature, we made soda bread, and then called it a day. We couldn’t get in touch with our Irish roots, because by lineage, blood, and community, we were too Indian. So Indian my mother put the Irish flag on regalia. So Indian, my mother argued Irish people should be called Indigenous because, just like us, they were exploited by the Europeans. How was Smith lead to believe she was Indian? Did she grow up in an Indian community? Nope. Are either of her parents Indian? Nope. She, like most white people who think they’re Indian, was told she was part Indian. She took that and ran with it. Ran hard. Like, took that loose mouthed claim to lineage, and made a career out of it.

Trust me, I empathize with people removed from their culture. The sixties scoop is a real issue for many Native people throughout North America. If you’re unfamiliar, it was a period in which the government could scoop up Indian children from their communities, then place them up for adoption in Canada and the US. That’s real: for the people disconnected from their cultures, and for the people who could not find their real parents. I empathize with Native people shut out from their culture, but don’t confuse their stories with that of Smith. She’s hella white, and she tried to save us. Can we call her what she is: a white savior.

Native academic communities are far too kind. I’ve seen endless blog posts and editorials empathizing with Smith. Even defending her, saying she’s done so much good. No. Her deceit affected the ethos of every institution she worked for. Her criticism of government funding was coming from a dangerous space, where she never had to rely on government funding to feed her children or protect her sisters. She’s a fake. Her work was based around her identity, and scholars have the audacity to say how she identifies isn’t worth noting.

Smith was a real spitfire and a hell-raiser. She wielded theory and residential school accounts verbatim. Her work was nothing more than the compiling of information, coupled with the intellect to unpack it. Her ideas aren’t original. Lee Maracle, among other Native women, have been talking about environmental racism and the Indigenous female body for years. Smith is a smart lady. She can defend herself, even from the indefensible. See, white academics are really good at twisting words around, until Indians start doubting themselves. I’m not trying to hear whatever argument defends her character.

Andrea Smith doesn’t know the struggle. She invented her own. Once a white professor took me aside to ask me how I felt about the stereotypes against Native women. I said, “What stereotypes,” because, up until then, I was happy to think I was an equal among my peers. He said, “The stereotype that you’re wild women in bed. The ‘Squaw’ stereotype.” I was shocked and speechless. I was never alone again with him. That’s the struggle. Real threat. Real pain. Real discrimination. 

Terese Marie Mailhot is from Seabird Island, a place bound by the Mariah Slough and the Fraser River. She studies at the Institute of American Indian Arts. Her work, “Heart Berries,” can be found in Carve magazine, and her story, “House Party,” is forthcoming in Yellow Medicine Review.