John Smelcer’s Ethnicity, the University of Alaska Anchorage,
and the Willful Ignorance of Bullies Who Attack Him
SETTING THE RECORD STRAIGHT
By all applicable laws of the United States (tribal, state, federal), most importantly by the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANSCA; 1971, 1987 Amendments), the largest indigenous legislation in American history, I am Alaska Native/Native American. I am an enrolled member of Ahtna, Inc. and the Traditional Native Village of Tazlina, a tribe recognized by the U. S. Bureau of Indian Affairs. The State of Alaska issued me a license (based on federal laws) authorizing me to create and sell art as authentic Native handicraft. For much of my career, I have served as an administrator for numerous Native organizations. For years, I was the tribally-appointed executive director of my tribe's Ahtna Heritage Foundation. In addition, I am one of the last speakers on earth of our severely endangered Native language, having learned it from every elder who spoke Ahtna. In 1998, I published a dictionary of our language. (Click on dictionaries on the menu to download the dictionary or to watch Youtube episodes of me teaching Ahtna.) In 1997, I published a collection of our traditional mythology after interviewing every single living Ahtna elder. In 1999, Ahtna Chief Harry Johns held a special ceremony to designate me a Traditional Ahtna Culture Bearer, a term usually reserved for elders with significant cultural knowledge. These facts should satisfy any curious person about my ethnicity. So what is the controversy?
IF YOU WANT TO LEARN THE WHOLE STORY, INCLUDING WHY I RESIGNED FROM THE UNIVERSITY OF ALASKA IN 1994, AND ABOUT THE BULLIES WHO CONSTANTLY MISREPRESENT THE TRUTH, READ ON. (Warning: This article is comprehensive! It has to be by necessity.)
Anyone with a high public profile will understand the following complaint. We live in a society that includes folks who simply cannot abide the success of those of common background or with whom they have (imagined or not) legitimately contested and lost. In addition, and in this particular case, there are disturbed people whose malevolence goes beyond the normal issues of petty jealousy and competition. Every ten years or so, especially when one of my books is up for some prestigious award, someone digs up the old story of how I resigned from the University of Alaska Anchorage in the summer of 1994 and imagines he or she has discovered something new that must be shared with the world. People I have never met attack me for reasons best known to themselves or to their therapists; they needlessly attack my credentials, my writing, my lineage, my language, and even my children. They send me anonymous threatening letters. Behaving as nameless cowards, some individuals even send anonymous letters to places where I work and to organizations which I belong in an attempt to get me dismissed. The problem is, of course, the story is not new at all, nor is it true.
Of course, there’s some truth to the story. Good rumors always have a basis in fact, no matter how perverted. Quite rightly the rumor begins with the fact that in 1993 I was hired as a visiting assistant professor at the University of Alaska Anchorage (I had taught there for years as an instructor). Ethnicity had absolutely nothing to do with my hire. But halfway though my first year, the provost and dean converted my contract from “visiting” to “tenure track” based on an initiative to increase the number of Alaska Native faculty on campus. There was no application process. I did not apply for this gratefully received promotion. In my case, I was promoted simply because I was an Alaska Native descendant.
For the most part, 1993-1994 was a very good year. I co-chaired the Alaska Native Studies Program. I served on numerous programs and committees to increase student and faculty diversity on campus, served as faculty advisor for the Alaska Native Students Association, and I was on a number of thesis and dissertation committees, including as an outside reader for a doctorate in Education from Harvard’s prestigious American Indian Education Program. I served on the university’s tenure and promotion review committee, and I was hand-picked by the president of the University of Alaska Statewide System to serve on the committee to hire a new chancellor for the university.
Before the end of the year, hundreds of students nominated me for the Chancellor’s Award for Excellence for service to students. I had a couple books that were published or were forthcoming, was co-editor of a forthcoming anthology of contemporary Native American poetry entitled Durable Breath, was poetry editor at a Seattle-based journal of multicultural literature, and I even had a poem accepted in the Atlantic Monthly. At Lee Francis’ invitation, and at the urging of his sister, Paula Gunn Allen, and James Welch, I became a founding member of Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers & Storytellers, a national organization. As I said, it was a good year. I looked forward to a long and distinguished career at the university.
But behind the scene, there was a tenured full professor who wanted to get rid of me. (Anybody who has been on a university faculty will understand why that was a problem.) To this day, I believe he was resentful of my success as a junior faculty and saw me as a threat, especially after I was converted to the tenure track (either that or he resented a direct hire in his department.) He did everything to get rid of me. There wasn’t a week that went by that Dean Miller didn’t tell me of the professor’s relentless and fruitless attempts to get me fired. The tenured professor was Machiavellian in his scheming to get rid of me. But finally, he found a way. I never gave a minute’s thought to how one proves his or her ethnic heritage. How does one prove such a thing? Could you prove yours? I grew up being told I was Alaska Native. In fact, I grew up knowing only my Native side of the family. Even in junior high school I was a member of organizations for Alaska Native students. In fact, it was my father who signed me up for them. In 1978, for instance, I participated in a program for Alaska Native students funded by the Johnson O’Malley Program of the Fairbanks Native Association. We spent several days in the Yukon River village of Nulato participating in their annual potlatch ceremony called The Stick Dance. My father signed the permission forms and took me to the airport. When we students returned, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner ran a story about our experience (c. April 4, 1978; note the first sentence):
For most of the 1980s, I was instructed in traditional Native Ways and spirituality by my relative, Walter Charley (left), a renowned Athabaskan elder. Throughout the ‘80s and early ‘90s, Ahtna, Inc. supported my college education through its scholarship program, eventually named after Walter Charley after he died in 1992. (In 2013 and 2014, Ahtna awarded me scholarships to pursue postdoctoral studies in world religions at Harvard University.) As I said earlier, I had never given a thought to proving my ethnic self. I was aware that I had no letter from my tribal Native Corporation and no CIB (Certificate of Indian Blood) from the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs. That distressed professor jumped on this and convinced a scurrilous newspaper reporter (who turned out to be one of his former students) that he should run with the story and that the angle should be that I had perpetrated a fraud. It didn’t help that my father—a half-blood Alaska Native—was a willing accomplice. Apparently, my father failed to tell the reporter that in the fall of 1987 he wrote a letter to the U. S. Army praising my integrity and stating that he is my father (see below).
No one ever questioned my father’s motives or why he would go out of his way to so publicly destroy his son. No one ever questioned why my younger brother committed suicide only a few years earlier. No one mentioned that a couple years earlier, my father blackmailed me for $5,000 during a child custody battle, threatening to lie to the judge about me to make me lose my daughter—his grandchild—if I didn’t pay him. By happenstance, I saw him having lunch with the opposing party and her lawyer at a restaurant a few days later. I knew then that he would make good on his threat. Fearful of losing my daughter, I paid him, against the vehement protests of my mother and my uncle (my father’s brother). When the newspaper reporter called my father that spring day in 1994 asking if I was his son, my father saw another opportunity to hurt me. And so he did. Armed with my father’s dehumanizing words, the newspaper ran damming front-page stories for months, regardless of the truth.
Early in the controversy, after the first newspaper story appeared in late April of 1994, Ahtna elders, as well as several tribally-elected Ahtna, Inc. Board of Directors (my uncle Herbert included) went to the university and to the story-hunting newspaper reporter stating that I was, in fact, accepted as a member of Ahtna. My grandmother, Mary Joe Smelcer (above), my father’s full-blood Indian mother, sent a letter (above) to the university. My uncle Herbert Smelcer (below), Chairman of the Board of Directors of our tribe and past-president and an influential Native leader who co-signed important Native legislation with the president of the United States, even faxed university officials and the newspaper reporter my birth certificate and notarized documentation that Ahtna, Inc. was in the process of making me a shareholder (tribal member) and that the process might take several months (Alaska Natives born before Dec. 18, 1971 are shareholders in one of thirteen regional Native corporations, Ahtna being one of them). The newspaper reporter flatly replied that none of that mattered and that he wasn’t going to publish anything that helped me. He told me the same thing in a telephone conversation.
Just a week earlier, during the last week of the school year, the Anchorage Daily News ran a story about the only other Alaska Native faculty at UAA (a Haida woman in sociology) hired under the same initiative, who was resigning after mistreatment by her department. In the article (below), she cited part of her decision to resign was based on the way I had been unfairly treated by the university. The article also stated clearly that the only reason there was a controversy was because my department resented a direct hire for a tenure track position instead of the usual process. My “Native-ness” was not the issue (“Teacher quits in protest,” April 24, 1994, B1-B6).
Two days after the newspaper published yet another disingenuous story on May 19, 1994 my uncle Herb (my father’s younger brother) sent a letter to the university and the newspaper stating that “John is native” and repeated that Ahtna, Inc. was in the process of issuing me shares to become a voting Native shareholder. He also re-faxed copies of the executed document to the university and the newspaper. I told the university and the newspaper that I had sent my birth certificate to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, but was told it could take half a year to process. I asked for time to resolve the issue. But again, the reporter at the Anchorage Daily News refused to make the contents of either documents public or to publish them. Friends also wrote supporting letters, which were never printed or made public. I stood my ground for a while, maintaining that I hadn’t misrepresented myself. But I was thirty years old and this was my first real job. I had no money to speak of, and I had a wife and a six-year-old daughter at home. I paid a lawyer $1,000 to represent me. It was all the money I had. As anyone knows, even counted in 1994, a grand doesn’t go very far with a lawyer. On August 1, 1994, I handed the new chancellor—the one I helped to hire—my letter of resignation, not because I had done anything wrong, but because I had no more resources to continue to fight and because it was clear to me that I was no longer welcome in a department full of colleagues and friends I had worked with part-time for years. Ironically, I was hired as an archaeologist by Ahtna Native Corporation.
Within four months of leaving UAA, and at my uncle’s and grandmother’s insistence, Ahtna, Inc. Board of Directors voted unanimously to issue me shares, a tribal ID card, and a letter stating that I was Alaska Native of one-quarter blood, and the U. S. Bureau of Indian Affairs issued me a CIB stating that I was Alaska Native of one-quarter blood, the legal definition of Alaska Native under the 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, a federal law passed by Congress (amended, 1987; see legal definition below), which states that a person is Native if they are born to a Native of 1/4 degree blood or more, or if they are adopted by same. Either way, they are Native under the law. The story would have been very different if the university had just given me the time I had requested.
Four months after I resigned, I received a letter in the mail (below) from Associate Dean Arlene Kuhner, who had been Chair of the English Department for many years. Arlene was an honest woman and a dear colleague. She was also my mentor. Arlene was dying of cancer, but before she passed from this world, she wanted to set the record straight. She was appalled by the racist actions of certain members of her department. Dr. Kuhner bravely named the individual responsible for the wrong-doings against me. I guess she wanted a clear conscience. She told me that the professor bragged about how he got rid of me. She told me that she also sent the letter to the reporter at the Anchorage Daily News, who, having no desire to issue a retraction and admit wrong-doing, ignored it. She then sent it to the defunct Anchorage Times, also to no avail. She told me she mailed a copy to the New Yorker to clear my name. I thank her for her courage.
A year later, almost as an affront against the university and the newspaper, Ahtna Native Corporation—the very Native tribe that the Anchorage Daily News so publicly proclaimed I was not a member of—hired me as the executive director of our tribe’s Heritage Foundation, charged with the task of documenting and preserving our culture, traditions, and language. Not long afterward, the new chancellor visited our tribal offices in Glennallen, where he learned firsthand that the tribe had appointed me executive director of their cultural foundation. I doubt he ever told anyone what he had learned that day. I suppose no one wants to admit they were wrong. During my years at the Ahtna Heritage Foundation, the governor and his commissioners appointed me to serve on various state commissions for Alaska Native issues.
For three years, I served as Executive Director of the Foundation, driving 170 miles each way to work every week and living in my rustic cabin on my BIA land allotment atop a bluff overlooking the confluence of the Tazlina River and the Copper River, where I could see my uncle’s cabin and our family fishwheel from my window. I resigned after a new president of Ahtna, Inc. was elected. He immediately directed me to change the focus of the foundation, ordering me to manufacture Native trinkets to sell in tourist traps and to organize corporate banquets and events, all contrary to the foundation’s mission statement to preserve and teach our culture and language. He told me, "It was his way or the highway.” I refused to compromise the integrity of the foundation, and so I left in June 1998. In 1999, Ahtna Chief Harry Johns (below) held a special ceremony in Copper Center designating me a “Traditional Ahtna Culture Bearer,” a term usually reserved for elders with significant cultural knowledge.
Five years after I left UAA, individuals statewide nominated me for the Governor’s Award for the Humanities for my work in preserving Alaska Native cultures and languages. Until his death in 2004, my beloved uncle Herbert Smelcer, my father’s own brother and an important leader in Alaska Native politics for decades, supported me as if I were his son. Since 1994, I have never missed a tribal vote (only Alaska Natives as defined by ANSCA can vote), and I regularly receive my annual tribal dividends. When my beloved grandmother passed away in 2003, of all her grandchildren and great-grandchildren, she left me her tribal votes.
Over the next decade, I worked for different Alaska Native organizations in various leadership roles, including as a tribal grants administrator at Chugachmiut, as a department head at the Alaska Native Medical Center/South Central Foundation (I earned a certificate of advanced graduate study in Health Care Administration from Texas A&M University), and as director of Chenega Native Corporation’s Culture and Language Project, which I directed for almost five years. My uncle Herb and I briefly operated Copper River Indian Adventures, a Native-owned ecotourism river-rafting company. I served on statewide committees for Native issues, including the Commission for Alaska Native Tourism and the Alaska Council for the Arts committee on Alaska Native Museums after being trained by the Smithsonian’s Museum of the American Indian in 2004. That same year, the State of Alaska issued me my Silver Hand permit, authorizing me by state and federal law to create and sell handcrafted art as authentic Native art. In 2012, I delivered the keynote address to the FBI’s National Native American Heritage Program in New York City, mandated by Presidential Executive Order to increase multicultural awareness in federal agencies.
I've endured these malicious misrepresentations for far too long. It is now the dawn of a third decade, and yet they persist. I’ve suffered much from the injustice and been excluded from countless opportunities along the way. I’ve been ostracized from academia in Alaska, a place I love with all my heart. I’ve been shunned by other Native writers, many I respect and admire. My writing has been marginalized despite its merit. My family has suffered. More than a dozen years after I left the university, some heartless professors treated my adult daughter unfairly when she was a student in their classes after learning that she is my daughter. Thankfully and ironically, in a full-page article about my poetry book, Indian Giver, published on Sunday, May 8, 2016, the Anchorage Daily News (now called the Alaska Dispatch News), the very newspaper that published the untrue stories about me 22 years ago, acknowledged that I am Alaska Native (below). The same newspaper published a different article about one of my other books on August 20, 2016 again acknowledging that I am Alaska Native (below; see last paragraph).
You would think the attacks would end now, but a woman named Debbie Reese continues to criticize me on the Internet, saying that I have no business writing books about Alaska Natives or Native Americans, not even about my own grandmother, who implored me for years to write my novel, The Great Death, about a pandemic that devastated Native communities all across Alaska nearly a century ago, including my own tribe. My mentor, Walter Charley, told me how he lost his entire family to the plague when he was a boy. In her blog, this dishonest woman accused me of “culturally appropriating” the Native words and phrases I used in the novel, purposefully concealing from readers the fact that I speak Ahtna fluently, am the only tribal member who can read and write in it fluently, and that I published a dictionary of the language in 1998—a fact easily checked on my website, which was listed on the book cover as well as on the audiobook. On April 8, 2016, she posted a review of my poetry book Indian Giver on amazon admitting that she hadn’t read the book yet, but she gave it a one-star rating nonetheless. She included in her byline that she’s a member of the American Library Association. I’m certain the ALA doesn’t condone members censuring books before they’ve been read. In fact, I know they don’t. The ALA is very much aware of her abuses. Because of her failure to be impartial, Kirkus, a book review industry leader, stated in June 2016 that they would never assign or publish a review of my work by Debbie Reese or knowingly by any of her friends. In May 2016, she emailed the 22-year-old disingenuous newspaper story to people who wrote blurbs for my recent books pressuring them to retract their praise (she didn’t tell them about the new story by the same newspaper). One individual who had previously been kind to me and praised my books suddenly became cruel and vicious. When I implored her to read this webpage to see documentation that I am Alaska Native, she replied that she wouldn't look at anything, stating that Debbie Reese had told her I was not Native and that was good enough for her. I'm constantly amazed at how quickly a person will try to destroy another person all because someone else told them they shouldn't like him. My heart is a cemetery full of the holes left by such people.
Over three decades, I cultivated a network with other writers in the literary world. As the editor of a national literary magazine (Rosebud) for almost a quarter century, I have communicated with tens of thousands of writers--some famous, even iconic; others just beginning--and received an estimated 200,000 poems! For the longest time, I gave personal, handwritten comments on every submission (no form letter). Many of those fine authors offered a few kind words of praise for my writing, sometimes, I think, because I was writing from the allure of Alaska, but also because many were aware of the efforts to marginalize me for so long. They wanted to help me. Rosebud is a nonprofit. It has never profited from a single issue, and in all those years, I was never paid a single dime. It was a labor of love. Over those many years, I have paid thousands of dollars in honoraria to writers out of my own pocket. Over the decades, I have judged numerous national and international literary prizes, for which I have never received payment. I have spent my life volunteering in the service of promoting contemporary literature in the world. The same can be said of my two noun dictiionaries of endangered Alaska Native languages, both of which have always been available for free.
Debbie Reese and/or her surrogates have contacted journal editors and literary award committees and tried to coerce them to withdraw my writing from publication or awards consideration. Unfortunately, some have caved to the organized social media pressure. An outright lie she and her surrogates propagate is to say that my writing perpetuates stereotypes about American Indians to discourage librarians and other folks from ordering my books and to convince editors to censor my writing, again failing to disclose that my books include blurbs by major Native writers, historians, and scholars who praise the contents. I'm an Insider, a tribal member and culture bearer who is also a cultural anthropologist; I've been a professor and co-chair of Native Studies. My books don't stereotype. It's part of their M.O., a lie they tell in hopes readers won't check for themselves. They criticize my occasional use of the word "Indian" in my writing, even though one of the most successul Native writers once wrote, "Indian is not a derogatory word. It's what we call ourselves." From my own experince, my fellow tribal members proudly refer to themselves as Indian. In January 2016, Ms. Reese published an article about me in which she "concludes" that I somehow parlayed my Grandmother's Gift of Transfer of Stock into getting a CIB (Certificate of Indian Blood). She's absolutely incorrect and ignorant of the laws. A Transfer of Stock simply transfers shares of tribal stock from one family member to another, which determines how many votes you can cast in tribal elections and how much you receive in annual dividends. I received my CIB from the BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs) simply because my father is half-blood Alaska Native. All I had to do was send a birth certificate to the BIA, which checked to find my father's name on a list of registered Native enrollees. Even when she or other individuals (including "reporters") call my Native Corporation and my village association, recognized as a tribe by the U. S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, which both informed them I am indeed a member, they causally dismiss the fact and take it upon themselves to proclaim publicly that they don't think that means I'm Native or that I have any right to say I come from a Native heritage. What makes them think they have the right to make that judgment?
Because of Reese’s vitriol, her surrogates eagerly join in the chorus of hate. One individual posted that my youngest daughter is not really my daughter. She is. How will she feel if she reads that online someday? A writer I have great respect for single-handedly proclaimed that my language isn't real, that I made it up and that it sounds like gibberish; his words disrespected an entire culture. Jumping on the hate bandwagon, people I haven't seen in over a decade, and about whom I have never said a negative word, suddenly viciously attack me, their memories clouded by an anger they didn't have until Debbie Reese emailed them the 1994 newspaper about me, the one proved to be a one-sided sham. As an example, someone I haven't seen in more than a decade alleged that I told her I had a PhD from Oxford. As far as I recall, the last time I ever spoke to her was at a late night coctail party in August 2006. I had just returned from a summer semester at Oxford, and I was just beginning my first semester in a PhD program in New York. In her memory, the woman must have "married" the two pieces of information. What kind of person tries to destroy another person so publicly over such a thing said at a coctail party more than a decade ago? These folks even dig up things I did as a teenager to use against me, even though I'm now more than half a century old. For the record, I have no convictions of any kind, and I have passed a FBI background check (for licensure) every five years since the1980s. Debbie Reese knows this to be true, but she only tells people what she wants them to know. This may all seem new to you, but believe me, it's the same old story they rehash over and over, decade after decade, only every now and then they try new tactics and recruit new people to join them in their attacks. Eventually, those people tire and walk away. Some have even contacted me to apologize, telling me that Debbie Reese misled them.
Debbie Reese never emails these people the 2016 articles by the same newspaper that say I am Alaska Native (see above). She never tells them about my birth certificate that proves my father is my father, or my father's 1987 admission that I am his son and therefore Alaska Native. Fueled by Reese's reckless hate and willful ignorance, her surrogates have sent me harassing emails and have mailed anonymous death threats to me at my home. Because of this, I've had to take extraordinary measures to protect my family's privacy and peace of mind. Which brings me to the "fake agent" issue. Because Debbie Reese and her mob posts an online list of people they mean to destroy, and because they constantly incite hatred against me in public forums and on social media and blogs, I wanted to avoid receiving hate emails. A friend gave me the idea of creating a "middle man" so that I could receive legitimate emails related to my writing while reducing any hate email. Who would expect someone's agent to forward hate email? At the same time I asked to have my mailing address removed from Rosebud's website so it would be more difficult for Reese supporters to mail anonymous letters and death threats to my home. What would you do for your family's safety? I hope you appreciate the irony that Reese and Mailhot and others jump on the "fake agent" issue as proof that I'm a conman, yet it was they who created the hostile conditions that warranted the necessity for it in the first place.
All three authors of the horrible articles about me posted and recycled in late August 2017 have direct connections to Debbie Reese and her surrogates, which Lee Francis called the "Guardians of Blood Quantum" (read pdf below). One of the "reporters" named Theresa Mailhot, a close friend of Debbie Reese, even sent a harassing email to my publisher more than fifteen months earlier in which she wrote that my publisher should be ashamed of publishing my books. She and Debbie Reese have contacted people who gave me blurbs for my books in the past and tell them I'm some kind of criminal, blurb-faking conman who has undoubtedly misused them. They load the deck by sending them their one-sided, sham articles about me in an attempt to create suspicion and mistrust from the get-go. This isn't journalism, not by a long shot. When writers tell them they did indeed give me a blurb for a book or that I published them or that they collaborated with me on some writing project many years ago, Reese and Mailhot disingenuosly report that it must have been under shady circumstances, that I must have conned them. Because of the uncharitable way they present me to authors or their estates, one individual--the author of one of the most iconic movies in history--at first denied knowing me or giving me a blurb, only to admit a couple days later that he did know me and that he did give me a blurb after I sent him evidence of our communications and after he read this webpage. In an email to Debbie Reese sent after I emailed him, he told her "that he didn't want to get in the middle of an old argument." That is what this is: an old argument. Like others who have been contacted, that author came to realize that Debbie Reese had manipulated him. But Debbie Reese didn't tell you about that email or others just like it. She and her surrogates have an agenda, which should be obvious to anyone by now. They don't want you to know how many famous writers have confirmed that they gave me blurbs in the past or that I published them or worked with them on some literary project. They simply can't or won't accept that so many people have been kind to me over the years. How could any articles written by any of these people ever be impartial?
If you have been contacted by these people, first, let me say I am sincerely sorry that you've been dragged into this, and secondly, please take what they say about me with a grain of salt and don't let them manipulate you. I have always been thankful and respectful of people who have shown me kindness. Please extend to me more charity than do the people who contacted you about me.
Let me say a few words about the allegations regarding my book jacket blurbs. I have been judicious when it comes to obtaining permissions to use blurbs. If too many years have passed since an individual gave me a blurb for one of my books (sometimes it has taken ten years or longer for me to find a publisher), I have diligently contacted that individual and asked if I still had their permission. Individuals are often grateful that I asked and some have used the occasion to edit their original blurb or foreword. If so much time has elapsed that the individual has passed away, I have gone to great lengths to contact their estate to obtain renewal of permission. In some cases, after months of failed attempts to get a response via email, letters, phone messages, and Facebook messages, I’ve hired lawyers to contact the estate on my behalf. I have boxes full of hundreds of letters, notes, cards, emails, and contracts and agreements. Because of this respectful policy, no blurb or foreword has ever been revoked by a living writer or their estate. A “reporter” who wrote one of the negative articles about my integrity was provided with numerous examples that proved the extent to which I have gone to obtain renewal of permission for blurbs or forewords, a fact he failed to disclose in his article. It was also alleged that I didn’t have permission from a certain iconic figure to use his words in one of my books. I have since contacted that individual’s representative, and he has voiced no concern whatsoever.
For more than twenty years, I’ve avoided making my birth certificate public. However, circumstances warrant it. Parts of my birth certificate below have been redacted so my identity cannot be stolen. Would you post your birth certificate for the whole world to see? Debbie Reese doesn't want you to see this official birth certificate, which proves my father is my father, a half-blood Native from Alaska.
In 2008, I had a candid telephone conversation with Debbie Reese, offering to provide her many of the documents presented in this article, including my birth certificate. She told me flatly that “she didn’t care what I sent her, that nothing would change her opinion, and that she planned to destroy me and make sure that no one would ever publish my writing again.” Friends who have contacted her on my behalf have reported similar responses. Others have reported she has stated as much at public forums.There's even a list they post online with the names of other people they attack because they personally don't think they are "Native enough" for them: a bullying list. She and her surrogates relentlessly criticize me for writing Native-themed books, but when I publish books that have nothing to do with Natives, they mercilessly attack those books as well.
I’m damned if I do and damned if I don’t.
I’m not proud of everything I’ve done in my life. I'm far from perfect, more so than most. I'm a little too prideful (my father was so abusive and demeaning to me that I learned to hide my insecurity behind an exaggerated need to excel in order that others might accept me). Like you, I have regrets, but my heritage and my books aren't among them. But I've never misrepresented my ethnicity. By all applicable laws, most importantly by the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971 and 1987 amendments, I am protected under the law for claiming to be of Alaska Native heritage. I resigned from the University of Alaska Anchorage primarily because I no longer wanted to work in a department that didn’t want me. What future would there have been for me in a department where senior faculty (who vote for tenure) resented me? Regardless of the facts and the law, Debbie Reese and her followers would deny me a family, a heritage, and a history—a man with no past and no future. She and her mob never considers the possibility that my father might be capable of misrepresenting the truth. It is a fact my father lied to Debbie Reese and equally fact that she perpetuates the lie out of personal vendetta. I'm not the only person she does this to. There are many. As I said previously, they post a list of names as folks did in the McCarthy era. After so many years, she's too invested to admit she was wrong. What would her followers think if she admitted she was wrong after they helped her to destroy the lives of so many people? When it comes to anything she or her surrogates write about me, please consider the old addage: "Don't believe everything you read."
How many emerging Native voices have she and her followers silenced over the years? How many deserving books have been disregarded by the industry because of them? There are over 500 different tribes in America. In no way does Debbie Reese represent or speak for all Native Americans. She’s not even a spokesperson for her own tribe. My late friend Lee Francis, founder of Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers & Storytellers, compared the racist actions of such hateful people to the witch hunts of the Spanish Inquisition, Nazi Germany, and the McCarthy era. He even published an article about it, largely because of the way I was mistreated by other Native writers after I joined Wordcraft Circle. In the article, Lee suggests that, "Even when confronted with legal verification, some [people like Debbie Reese] will not relent—for, like Nazi enforcers, they are incapable of admitting wrongdoing—and they continue their formidable efforts to alienate and destroy anyone in their sights, sometimes individuals respected and beloved in their Indian communities." (Click on the pdf below to read Lee's full article.)
Dean Miller once told me the most tragic part of this story is that my father hated me and my brother enough to destroy us. My brother committed suicide to escape our father’s abuse. I thought I had escaped his abuse when I moved out at eighteen. Many writers become writers out of a cathartic need to verbalize some trauma they suffered in their lives. In 1994, my father was concerned that, as a new professor of English and as an emerging writer with a national audience, I might eventually write about the trauma my brother and I suffered as children. He meant to silence me as my brother would be silent forever. But because of Debbie Reese, Theresa Mailhot, and others, my father continues to hurt me and my family nearly four decades later. I never let bullies win, even when they have been much bigger than me. I became a body builder and weight lifter as a teenager to defend my brother and me. I never let bullies win, which is why I have to tell this story, even though I wish to hell I didn't. Who would want such a terrible and tragic family history aired in public for the whole world to see? But, I have learned bullies lose their power when they are revealed to the world for who and what they are. After nearly a quarter century of these attacks, I have come to realize the futility of trying to fight against such organized attacks and the weaponization of social media and the Internet. Folks ask why I don't join in the social media fray. The answer is simple: It's impossible to find peace by fanning the flames of conflict. At the same time, I have the right to tell my side of the story. I'm trying to do so with as much compassion as possible for the people who attack me.
Keep this in mind: Debbie Reese's stated agenda time and again is to destroy me. As the author of that iconic movie and others have come to understand, Debbie Reese, Theresa Mailhot, and their surrogates don't care about the truth; they only care about winning this "old argument" that's been going on for more than a decade. Despite irrefutable evidence that I'm Native, they would destroy my life rather than admit they might have been wrong about me.
But I tell you this: for more than thirty years, elders from my tribe and others--most of whom have since passed away--entrusted me to preserve and to pass on our language, myths, histories, and oral histories. I will never dishonor them; I will never stop working to pass on to future generations the things they taught me and the stories they asked me to share with the world.
If you are in the publishing industry—a book reviewer, librarian, publisher or editor, newspaper editor, distributor or bookstore owner, or a literary prize committee member—please stop empowering these bullies. Be courageous. Make a stand. Be the difference. Stop providing them a forum and a voice. Don't let their attempts at censorship prevail in a nation founded on individual freedoms.
***If someone emails you one of these hateful stories about me, please do not forward it but encourage whoever sent it to you and others to read this webpage. Take away their audience and you take away their voice. That's how you stop cyberbullies.***