A leading figure in the Native American community and a Hollywood producer is being accused of lying about her Native American heritage.
Tribal Alliance Against Frauds is a watchdog group that exposes “ethnic frauds pretending” to be American Indians. Heather Rae, 56, was accused of faking Native American heritage.
Rae, who is Cherokee, but is not enrolled in any tribe, sits on the Academy of Motion Pictures’ Indigenous Alliance. She also previously headed the Sundance Institute’s Native American Program. Her film, “Frozen River”, won a Sundance Award and an Independent Spirit Award. She was also nominated for an Oscar.
Rae is a “narrative-change strategist” at IllumiNative (a Native women-led social justice organization). This group is dedicated to “building power for Native peoples” by amplifying contemporary Native voices and stories to advance justice, equity, and self-determination.
Rae stated that his mother was Indian and his father was a cowboy. The New York Post reported Rae’s mother, Barbara Riggs was cited as Cherokee by multiple news agencies.
Tribal Alliance Against Frauds claimed Rae was a “Pretendian” who asked her to drop the “false claim”.
TAFF obtained a 1969 divorce certificate which showed Rae’s parents were white. Census records also revealed that Rae’s maternal grandfather was also white.
TAFF discovered that Rae has a Cherokee connection through Jane E. Lassiter (his fourth great-grandparent). According to reports, Lassiter’s father is one-eighth Cherokee. According to the watchdog group, even if the link is correct, Rae would be 1/2048th Native American.
According to TAFF records, Lassiter won the Cherokee Land Lottery acreage in 1832. This was open only to non-Cherokees.
“Winning such a lotto is definitive proof that the ancestor IS NOT Cherokee,” TAFF stated.
According to Lianna Costantino, director of Tribal Alliance Against Frauds, “Being an American Indian person does not depend on who you claim you are. It is about who you claim you are.” It’s more than race. We are citizens of sovereign countries. An Indian is a political and legal distinction.
Elizabeth Warren, a Democratic Senator from Massachusetts, was previously criticized for claiming Cherokee heritage. After tests showed she was 1/1024th and 1/64th Native American, she admitted she had “made mistakes”.
The Academy informed the Post that they don’t require proof of Native American origin to be a member. The outlet reported that Rae didn’t respond to a request for comment.