Indianz.Com > News > Native food sovereignty figure admits no tribal connections
Elizabeth Hoover
Elizabeth Hoover is an associate professor of environmental science, policy and management at the University of California Berkeley. According to the UC Berkeley, she is one of 11 ladder-rank faculty who have self-identified as Native American. Photo by Adam Sings in the Timber / UC Berkeley
Native food sovereignty figure admits no tribal connections
Liz Hoover spent decades claiming to be Mohawk and Mi’kmaq
Friday, October 21, 2022

A scholar who has made a name for herself in Native food sovereignty circles has vowed to stop claiming to be of “Mohawk/Mi’kmaq descent” after looking into her background.

In a statement made public on Thursday, Elizabeth Hoover attributed her claims of being Mohawk and Mi’kmaq to family lore. She said her parents raised her to believe she was of “mixed” Native and non-Native ancestry.

“According to my mother, her grandmother was a Mohawk woman who married a French-Canadian man,” Hoover, who is more commonly known as Liz, said in a “Statement about Identity” posted on her newly-created website.

“My dad’s family said his grandma was Mi’kmaq, which was also something we were proud of but never quite as close to,” Hoover added.

But after conducting “genealogical research” into her New York-based family, Hoover concluded that she has no connections to the tribal communities she had been claiming for decades. She said the “new revelations” have led her to stop identifying herself as Mohawk and Mi’kmaq — which she has done publicly since her teenage years.

“Now, 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,” Hoover said in the statement.

Despite the admission, Hoover avoided detailing her willingness to go along with the “stories” that she said she grew up hearing — even after obtaining advanced educational degrees in anthropology during her adult years. Left out of the statement, for instance, was an explanation of her long-term use of the supposed Mi’kmaq language name of Gomdineoeoeu Osaog.

The name shows up in news accounts as early as July 1996, when Hoover was just 17 years old. She repeated the claim more than a decade later, while serving as a visiting scholar at a university in Pennsylvania where she taught about Native peoples in the anthropology department.

“It means Mountain Flower in Mi’kmaq,” Hoover, then age 30, told Lancaster Newspapers in December 2009.

Elizabeth M. Hoover   Statement about Identity
On October 20, 2022, Elizabeth M. Hoover posted a “Statement about Identity” on a recently-created website under the domain.

Hoover’s new statement now characterizes her paternal Native claim as being distant even though she previously asserted that her “father has Mi’kmaq ancestors from Quebec” in Canada in her doctoral dissertation. The scholarly work earned her a Ph.D. in anthropology from Brown University Rhode Island in 2010.

Likewise, Hoover failed to offer an explanation about the Mohawk community that she once claimed. In the same dissertation — which is listed at the top of her professional resume — she insisted that her mother’s family was from Kahnawake, a sovereign tribal nation whose territory also happens to be located in the Canadian province of Quebec.

Instead, Hoover continues to associate herself with an entirely different Mohawk community — that of Akwesasne, whose homelands span the provinces of Quebec and Ontario in Canada and cross into the state of New York in the United States. The self-affiliation is significant, as the territory is where she has based a significant portion of her published works, including her first of two books she has released.

“I have been grateful to the people of Akwesasne who took me in called me their chosen daughter, auntie, and friend, and who put me to work,” Hoover’s statement reads. “When people told me ‘welcome home’ when I would come to visit, that meant something to me.”

Hoover further acknowledges that the “information about my identity” might cause people to not want to associate with her in certain spaces. But as with the lack of details about her prior tribal claims, she does not address how her professional career has been strongly tied to supposedly being of Native descent.

After she was hired at the University of California, Berkeley, in time for the fall 2020 semester , the media arm of the world renown public land-grant institution described Hoover as a “relatively new Native American faculty member” and said she was one of “one of 11 self-identified Native American/Alaska Native ladder-rank faculty members at Berkeley.” She took pride in being a “cluster” hire meant to bring diversity to the campus, although the Berkeley News didn’t report her supposed tribal affiliations.

Even with the omission of information that might explain why she is considered to be Native American, Hoover is now part of the leadership team at UC Berkeley’s Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management. She serves as one of three division chairs in her department, with her area of focus listed as “Society and Environment.”

And while Hoover in her statement indicated that she only recently looked into her family, her tribal claims have been the subject of considerable debate for much of the past year. In February, the Chi-Nations Youth Council, a group of young Native people in Chicago, Illinois, accused the scholar of “taking resources from Native people for years and lying about her ancestry.”

Members of Chi-Nations became familiar with Hoover as she was an intimate partner of Adam Sings In The Timber, a photographer and citizen of the Crow Tribe who has long maintained a presence in Chicago, where had previously worked with the group. After he was publicly accused of sexual assault and sexual misconduct by young Native women, Hoover said she ended her relationship with him in a post on a social media account that has since been deactivated.

But just like her new statement, Hoover left out key details about her dealings with Sings In The Timber, whose birth surname is Singer. She did not disclose that he was employed by UC Berkeley through its partner hiring program — meaning his presence on campus, in close proximity to young people, was directly linked to her status as faculty.

“I want to unequivocally say that I have never facilitated any inappropriate contacts between Adam and any of my students, as has been suggested,” Hoover wrote on April 21. “I would NEVER stand such behavior.”

Liz Hoover Elizabeth Hoover
A screenshot of a statement on the @lizhoover social media account as it appeared about 22 hours after being posted on April 21, 2022. The account was initially set to private but became public sometime later in the evening on April 21. It has since been deactivated entirely.

Sings In The Timber is no longer listed as an employee in UC Berkeley’s directory. His photography work appears in numerous articles published by the university, including those featuring Native students as well as those documenting the activities of the Native student program on campus.

Hoover’s former partner suffered professional consequences as a result of the sexual misconduct allegations, which he denied at the time of an Indianz.Com story published on April 21. The Field Museum, a prestigious institution in Chicago, removed Sings In The Timber’s work from a traveling exhibit about the Crow Tribe and from its first permanent exhibit about Native people, which opened in May.

Hoover, on the other hand, plans to stay put in Native food sovereignty circles — with the help of some high-profile helpers. She remains listed as a member of the board of North American Traditional Indigenous Food Systems, a non-profit led by Sean Sherman, a citizen of the Oglala Sioux Tribe who is the most prominent and most celebrated Native chef in the U.S.

In posts on social media from this spring, Hoover is seen posing in photos with Sherman, who is famously known as The Sioux Chef for his own efforts to bring Native foods to prominence. Yet even his organization has eliminated references to her now-discarded tribal affiliations — the board of directors page on no longer describes her as “Mohawk” as it once did before the questions raised by the Chi-Nations Youth Council earlier this year.

The board page itself had temporarily been removed from public view after Native women raised serious concerns about a high-ranking NATIFS employee’s violent background. When asked to explain the discrepancy in advance of an Indianz.Com story published on July 22, Dana Thompson, the organization’s executive director whose tribal affiliation is based on being of descent, offered to answer questions but did not respond to a series of follow-up inquiries.

NATIFS Board of Directors
A screenshot of the board of directors page for the North American Traditional Indigenous Food Systems (NATIFS) was taken on March 14, 2022, when it still described board member Liz Hoover as being “Mohawk.”

Beyond her proximity to notable Native figures, Hoover has continued attending Native-related events. In May, she went to a food sovereignty summit hosted by the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, according to a post on social media. And earlier this month, a social media user thanked her for “representing us so beautifully” at a LatinX/Indigenous gathering in the Bay Area of California.

She hasn’t stopped promoting her Native food work either. In a social media post from September, she touted her appearance in the Tribal College and University Research Journal in an article she co-authored about seed sovereignty.

UC Berkeley continues to boost Hoover’s supposed expertise in Native communities as well. Barely a day after she released her statement disclaiming her tribal claims, her academic department on Friday highlighted her contribution to a news story about a Native seed keeper.

“I am still the same person, with the same knowledge, skills, and commitments gained through decades of experience,” Hoover wrote on her website. “But I will accept with humility and understanding the decisions of people who do not think I belong in certain spaces.”

“Going forward, I will continue to passionately support food sovereignty and environmental justice movements in Native communities where and when I am invited to do so,” she wrote.

According to Drew Hayden Taylor, an award-winning Ojibwe author and filmmaker who recently debuted a documentary called “The Pretendians” in Canada, people who falsely assert a Native identity often try to justify their claims by bringing up the “good things” they are supposedly doing for Native communities.

“That just complicates it even more,” Taylor, a citizen and resident of the Curve Lake Nation in Ontario, said in an interview a day before his film premiered on CBC, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, on September 30.

In her statement, Hoover repeatedly discusses her own apparent positive efforts as a self-identifying Native student and, later, as a self-identifying Native professor. She said she has been organizing powwows on university campuses and working with Native student groups for almost two decades.

But Taylor said Pretendians end up undermining their work by relying on faulty claims of tribal belonging.

“Your past activities, in most cases, are irrelevant to your claims — because your activities, your achievements are built on false claims,” Taylor told Indianz.Com, speaking generally about Pretendian figures.

“Therefore, they’re not as beneficial as you would think because it’s through lies, essentially,” Taylor said.

According to publicly available internet records, Hoover established her website and domain in mid-August, just a few days before the start of the fall 2022 semester at UC Berkeley. Her “Statement of Identity” is highly visible — it can be accessed through an “Identity” menu item on the top of the site.

Hoover characterized the disclosure as a way to explain why she never looked into her background until recently. She said she hoped that coming forward now would ensure that she might still be accepted by people around her — many of them who happen to be Native.

“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,” Hoover wrote.

Yet a number of Native former collaborators have been trying to get Hoover to be more forthcoming about her background as far back as 2018, when she was about to publish her second book, and as recently as this summer. During both occasions, she appeared extremely reluctant to account for her actions, according to correspondence and messages seen by Indianz.Com.

When the book was about to be published, she went so far as to remove the “Mohawk and Mi’kmaq ancestry” claim from official University of Oklahoma Press materials for the food sovereignty project. On the other hand, the two other lead contributors have their tribal affiliations prominently shown.

More recently, Hoover said people who have been raising doubts about her background are the ones causing “damage.” Internet messages seen by Indianz.Com indicate that she considers herself a victim, even though she now admits her decades-long claims of being Mohawk and Mi’kmaq are unsupported by her own research.

“People who don’t even know me have worked very hard to paint me as a liar and manipulator and I don’t know why,” Hoover wrote in a series of messages in which she again brought up her “useful” work in Native communities.

“If there is damage that comes from all of this it’s because people are working hard to create that damage,” Hoover said.

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