Opinion

Terese Mailhot: Native writers forced to deal with ethnic frauds






Terese Marie Mailhot. Photo from Facebook

John Smelcer was exposed as non-Native years ago but continues to receive media coverage for his works about the "Native" experience in Alaska. Writer Terese Marie Mailhot (Seabird Island Band) isn't happy with the situation:
Native writers have to deal with a lot. We get ethnic enthusiasts who look at our work like it’s socio-cultural anthropological evidence, and we get compartmentalized into the “Native Literature” section within institutions and bookstores. When we write about the contemporary experiences of Indigenous people, we are often told the world doesn’t want to hear it. We’re often told to “write Indian,” which means tropes about Indian mystics, nature, and how bad life is for us. The worst part about being a Native writer is competing with non-Natives, who will proudly serve up tropes about us to get a check and some limelight.

John Smelcer’s story can be found in old news articles like the Sitka Daily Sentinel, where his whole life of fraud unfolds. In the story, “UAA Prof Resigns As Credentials Looked Into,” they write, “Some faculty members opposed his appointment because he was hired through a special process aimed at increasing minority staff. And then university administrators discovered he was not an Alaska Native as first was thought …” And that’s not all, the article goes on to say John Smelcer’s assertions regarding publications didn’t check out while they were looking into his ethnic status. His résumé included a publication in The New Yorker that didn’t exist. What he lacks in writing talent, he more than makes up for in hubris. In another article his own adopted father clarifies that his son is not Native. I don’t think he’s Native in the same way that I don’t think my friends from foster care are white for being adopted by white families. They’re still Native, and he’s still white.

I don’t know what ‘Native’ is, but I resent people with dubious stories, who benefit from white privilege and refuse to be accountable to hardworking Natives who have to struggle against oppression and stigma every day.

Get the Story:
Terese Mailhot: John Smelcer: Indian By Proxy (Indian Country Today 6/18)

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