UC Berkeley doctoral candidates Ataya Cesspooch and Sierra Edd and doctoral student Breylan Martin published a collective statement Nov. 11 about campus associate professor Elizabeth Hoover, who released a statement Oct. 20 rescinding her previous claim to Native American ancestry.
As of press time, the collective statement has garnered 350 signatures from organizations, community members, university faculty members and current or previous associates of Hoover.
“We all decided that we wanted to do something about it and say something about it because nothing was being done on the university side,” Martin, who is Tlingit-T’akdeintaan and a doctoral student in the ethnic studies department, said. “We were just kind of left to deal with the fallout of her statement and we can’t believe the tremendous amount of pain that she’s caused and that there’s no action to support students.”
The collective statement presents calls to action for Hoover, UC Berkeley and its environmental science, policy and management, or ESPM, department, as well as allies of Cesspooch, Edd and Martin’s cause.
The statement also criticizes Hoover’s statement and UC Berkeley’s “performative statements and inaction,” noting Hoover’s failure to acknowledge the prevalence of settler self-Indigenization, ignorance of the alternative forms of citizenship that Indigenous communities use and conflation of the Kahnawà:ke and Akwesasne, two distinct Mohawk communities.
“We want this to signal institutional change. We want different ethics to be universal in the UC system, or at least at Berkeley,” Martin said. “We don’t want this to happen to us again. This has been devastating, and so the demands came out of a desire for sweeping change.”
Cesspooch, Edd and Martin also demand that Hoover apologize in “clear terms” to current and former students and colleagues regarding her “fraudulent” claims and allegedly unethical conduct, specifically concerning her alleged dismissal of survivors of sexual violence in regards to her ex-partner Adam Sings In The Timber.
The authors also demand that Hoover stop “cosplaying” Indigenous identity, end the ancestral ambiguity they say is still present in her statement by coming out as white, repatriate cultural or sacred items and resign from her position as an ESPM associate professor and any other positions she obtained while allegedly falsifying her persona.
In addition, they demand that people stop citing her work, inviting her to speak, or award her grants and positions.
“It is not our intention to further the harms and divisions of colonial identity categorizations (e.g., blood quantum policies) within Native and Indigenous communities,” the collective statement read. “We draw attention to Hoover’s history of not being in good relation to the Indigenous communities with whom she works and issue a call for restorative justice going forward.”
Responding to the collective statement in an email, Hoover denied that she had ever silenced victims of sexual assault, saying any such claims were “unequivocally” false, saying she only learned about the accusations “this past spring when the issue exploded on social media.”
Hoover also noted that there is no “Native community” to be addressed, but “hundreds of thousands of people who are part of thousands of communities within hundreds of nations,” in reference to what she says is a diversity of responses to her statement. According to her, some responses offer support while others are “angry about how this upset has disrupted work and caused arguments.”
“This statement was intended to be the beginning of a conversation, not the entirety of everything I would ever have to say on the issue,” Hoover said in the email. “I naively did not anticipate the level of hurt and betrayal and upset that people would feel after reading this, the level of backlash it would engender, and how this in turn would also hurt people. It is my goal to work through the university’s restorative justice center in collaboration with my department, to try to hear and address this hurt.”
Hoover apologized for the “pain and the hurt that has been caused by this whole situation” to the students she has worked with over the years who have felt let down or betrayed and to the faculty at UC Berkeley and Brown University who have had to take on additional labor as a result of the situation regarding her identity.
Hoover also issued an apology to collaborators and community partners she has worked with over the years.
“It was never my intent for anyone to feel deceived or hurt, but the reality is that this is how some people feel now, and it is on me to work in some way to try to make that better, if possible,” she added. “Part of that is figuring out everyone I need to directly apologize to, the best venue to deliver these apologies, and the best way to make amends for these hurts.”
Hoover’s response did not explicitly address the postdoctoral students’ request that she resign.
Campus spokesperson Janet Gilmore noted that UC Berkeley does not plan to remove Hoover from her current position.
“Campus leaders welcome the perspective of community members,” Gilmore said in an email. “We seek to engage in productive dialogue with the community and offer support to individuals who have concerns about this issue.”
Cesspooch, Edd and Martin met with representatives for campus, including Chancellor Carol Christ, Dean of the Rausser College of Natural Resources David Ackerly, ESPM chair Michael Mascarenhas and Native American Student Development director Phenocia Bauerle on Friday.
Edd, who is Diné and a doctoral candidate in ethnic studies, said the meeting was “surface level” and focused on the details of what they were advocating for in their collective statement, rather than any creative solutions to address their demands.
“(Ackerly) was saying there’s no precedent for this so we don’t have anything to base these demands off of,” Cesspooch, who is Ute, Assiniboine and Lakota and an ESPM doctoral candidate, said.
The demands Cesspooch is referring to include offering block grant funding for students who were working with Hoover and helping students who had Hoover on their dissertation committees or qualifying examination in finding an alternate member, in addition to providing transparency for incoming Indigenous students of Hoover’s allegedly fraudulent claim to Indigenous heritage and temporarily deferring the admissions of Hoover’s prospective students, as specified in their statement.
In addition, they requested that campus open a targeted search for a new ESPM faculty member who is Indigenous with expertise in food sovereignty and environmental justice, which are Hoover’s areas of specialization. The authors also want campus to adopt a hiring and screening process that better protects Indigenous communities.
“A lot of our demands were based on the premise that Hoover would resign. David Ackerly had said he’s not able to comment on that, but that we should assume that there will be no change in her current (employment) status,” Cesspooch said. “If she stays, there’s actually a few more things we think are necessary to protect the safety of students.”
Still, as Cesspooch and the other authors of the collective statement are thinking of ways to protect Native students given that Hoover stays, they are simultaneously working to put public pressure on Hoover to resign where the administration feels legally unable to proceed, citing the words of Hoover’s own statement in which she says that she will support Native communities “where and when (she is) invited to do so.”
But for now, according to Cesspooch, the campus’s ESPM department remains hesitant to offer students disclaimers on Hoover’s heritage due to legal concerns.
According to the authors, representatives also cited concerns at the meeting regarding their demand for a targeted search for an Indigenous faculty member and referenced Proposition 209, which bans considering race, ethnicity or national origin in public hiring processes.
“If we are to take tribal sovereignty seriously, we have leverage to make these asks to the point where it goes to the state, for example, in a UC-wide policy through equity and inclusion, which I was hoping for the conversation to go towards,” Edd said. “It just seemed like the administrators were not open minded to that.”
Martin also noted that although the university is legally bound to not include identity in applications, UC schools have subverted this in different ways, citing ethics, research protocols or hiring for Native studies.
In an email to all ESPM faculty, staff, graduate students and postdoctoral scholars, Mascarenhas said that in response to the collective statement’s demands, he has sent an email to all 20 graduate students identified as having an academic relationship with Hoover to address any needs they may have.
Mascarenhas added in the email that Hoover’s potential students will be offered the option to temporarily defer admissions and switch advisors, and that those invited for interview weekend will be made aware of Hoover’s statement on identity. The email also addresses other demands spelled out in the collective statement.
“I am committed to developing protocols that allow for a deeper understanding of faculty applicants’ ethics in working with Indigenous communities, and to collaborating with other departments on campus to understand how we can adopt a better hiring and screening process to protect Indigenous communities,” the email from Mascarenhas reads.
Martin said they are willing to meet again at the beginning of next semester and are not looking for another “listening type” meeting focused on “clarifying questions.” They want an action plan with a budget and metrics to measure progress in meeting demands.
Central to Martin, Edd and Cesspooch’s demands is the harm they felt from someone they thought they could trust, especially given the underrepresentation of Indigenous women in academia.
“Hoover was previously bound by a pretense of morality that was assumed by the responsibility she upheld while playing this Indigenous persona,” Martin said. “She no longer is bound by Indigenous responsibilities or ethics. So now I ask, what is stopping her from publishing ceremonial and other tribally owned knowledge? She’s a tenured professor, and so that means that Berkeley can profit off of this knowledge, and Berkeley wants to. … What Berkeley is saying through that is that Berkeley is not a safe space for Indigeneity. Rather, it is a haven for performances of allyship.”