Native American food systems and food sovereignty scholar Elizabeth Hoover, associate professor of environmental science, policy and management at the University of California, Berkeley, is the latest professor to backtrack on claiming Native American identity. Hoover, who has long described herself as being of Mohawk and Mi’kmaq descent, said in a statement on her website that while she grew up in and around Native American spaces in upstate New York, “As a result of recent questions about my identity, I, along with others, conducted genealogical research to verify the tribal descent that my family raised me with, digging through online databases, archival records, and census data. While it is clear that racial identifications in census records are complicated and sometimes unclear (especially since the only race-identifying options for a long time were white, black, and mulatto), we have to date found no records of tribal citizenship for any of my family members in the tribal databases that were accessed. Essentially what I am currently left with is that I do not have any official documentation to verify the way my family has identified.”
Now, she said, “without any official documentation verifying the identity I was raised with, I do not think it is right for me to continue to claim to be a scholar of Mohawk/Mi’kmaq descent, even though my mother is insistent that she inherited this history for a reason. As such, I have been approaching my friends, collaborators, students, colleagues, and members of the general public, to share this information about my identity and to re-form these relationships as needed.”
Berkeley said in a statement, “We consider the issue of Elizabeth Hoover’s ethnic identity to be a deeply personal matter,” and the university “will respect [Hoover’s] statement that she does not ‘think it is right for me to continue to claim to be a scholar of Mohawk/Mi’kmaq descent.’ Our future campus communications will be consistent with her position.” Berkeley said it doesn’t consider race or tribal affiliation in employment decisions, and Hoover was not part of a cluster hire, as has been reported elsewhere.
Hoover’s apology has been criticized by some as continuing to harm Native Americans, including by equating trauma in her own childhood with being Indigenous. Hoover was a Ford Foundation Fellowship recipient in 2009–10, and this program considers Native American (or other underrepresented ethnic group) identity as a “positive” but not required factor for selection. Hoover also was a Ford postdoctoral fellow in 2014–15. In response to some students’ reactions to her news on social media, Hoover said via email that “I have worked hard to be as supportive as possible to the students I work with, and when I evaluate any student’s work, it is based solely on the quality of that academic work alone.”