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Published on May 04, 2023
UC Berkeley professor Elizabeth Hoover admits falsely claiming Native American ancestry

The recent controversy involving UC Berkeley associate professor Elizabeth Hoover, who admitted to incorrectly claiming Native American ancestry her whole life, has sparked a heated debate on academic integrity, ethics, and authentic Native identity in higher educational institutions as reported on Mercury News. Hoover, once seen as an important figure in Native American research and food sovereignty, confessed to coming from a non-Native background after continuous questioning surrounding her heritage via LA Times.

Elizabeth Hoover - Linkedin

As an anthropologist and the chair of the Division of Society & Environment at UC-Berkeley, Hoover's standing in academic circles is far-reaching, however, the revelation about her false native identity has led to calls for her resignation and concerns that it may harm UC Berkeley's scholarly reputation. It also raises questions about the validity of her academic work, which was mainly focused on Indigenous communities and their environmental health, as well as the appropriateness of her acceptance of race-related grants and fellowships throughout her career.


In a statement posted on her personal website, Hoover apologized for the "harm" she caused and admitted to negatively impacting people emotionally and culturally. Although Hoover, who defended her Native American identity for years due to family lore, maintains that she didn't knowingly deceive or exploit anyone, her case brings to light the complexities surrounding Native identity and what it means to be of Indigenous descent in contemporary society. The incident also calls for a reassessment on how higher educational institutions should approach issues surrounding personal identity and academia.


Several Native American scholars and activists, disturbed by Hoover's past actions, have voiced their opinions on the matter. Audra Simpson, a Mohawk anthropology professor at Columbia University, asserted that Hoover "lacks the requisite ethical and academic integrity to be a professor or a social scientist" and highlighted the moral and ethical implications of Hoover's self-identification as Native American, given her lack of documented genealogical or political connections to Indigenous communities via Mercury News. Fellow scholars have also accused Hoover of gaslighting the academic community and undermining fellow indigenous researchers.


UC Berkeley, however, has taken a more cautious approach, terming it a "deeply personal matter" and refraining from adverse actions, so far, against Hoover. Despite calls for her resignation or dismissal, some members of Native communities view Hoover's work as valuable, highlighting her research on the impacts of industrial contamination at the Akwesasne Mohawk community in upstate New York.