After the allegations began circulating, Hoover privately defended her partner. She told an acquaintance, David Smoke-McCluskey, that the accusations had been “completely made up,” and that Sings In The Timber was working on a statement with a mediator and with “the woman who fabricated” the story. There would be a ceremony, she said, at which Bear Don’t Walk would apologize for “publicly slandering” Sings In The Timber, and he would apologize “for hurting her feelings.” A Crow woman named Nina Sanders had, indeed, been approached about handling the situation in a Crow way, and had explained that this would involve a ceremony, but she claims she never proposed a joint apology or characterized the allegations as false. Hoover says the messages reflected her understanding of the situation at the time, but Smoke-McCluskey believes that Hoover lied to him in order to cast doubt on Bear Don’t Walk’s story.

Bear Don’t Walk went public in April. Another young woman had posted a story about Sings In The Timber behaving inappropriately, and the allegations were written up in a couple of Native publications. Hoover posted a statement on Instagram, insisting that she was “completely unaware of Adam’s harmful interactions with the two women who have come forward, until everything came out on this very public forum.” This is an overstatement at best: the mediation involving Sanders was proposed shortly after the accusations were made, in February. Hoover later deleted her Instagram account.

As this was going on, Hoover went to her colleague Kathryn De Master’s house and broke down. De Master felt overwhelmed, she told me. She considered Hoover a friend and an ally—the two had ridden out much of the early days of the pandemic texting jokes back and forth during department Zoom calls. And all the attention had made the whispers about Hoover’s identity harder to ignore. When people wrote about Sings In The Timber’s alleged behavior, they generally noted that his partner’s Native identity had been contested. This wasn’t news to De Master, but, like many of Hoover’s colleagues, she had wanted to believe Hoover, and so she did.

Perhaps none of Hoover’s colleagues were as upset about the rumors as Adrienne Keene, whom Hoover had mentored at Brown. Despite years of close friendship, Keene realized that Hoover had never told her the “full story” of her family. (Hoover denies keeping anything from her.) Keene reached out to Hoover and “asked her directly for family names and ties,” she later wrote, and “was left confused and unsatisfied by the answers.” She decided to investigate the matter herself, searching census records and reading through newspaper archives. Keene, who did not respond to several requests for an interview, has insisted that she began her investigation with the goal of helping her mentor by putting the questions to rest.

“I did this work from a place of love, which makes what I found even harder for me to understand,” she wrote in a long e-mail to Hoover, in June, 2022. “I wanted your story to be true. I wanted to give you the tools you needed to prove everyone wrong.” The e-mail goes through several generations of Hoover’s family tree, finding no ties to any Indigenous community. Keene later posted the e-mail on her blog.

In October of that year, Hoover published the first of her two statements about her identity. In response, three Native students who had studied with Hoover—Ataya Cesspooch, Sierra Edd, and Breylan Martin—wrote an open letter demanding her resignation. “As scholars embedded in the kinship networks of our communities,” they wrote, “we find Hoover’s repeated attempts to differentiate herself from settlers with similar stories and her claims of having lived experience as an Indigenous person by dancing at powwows absolutely appalling.” Hoover, they went on, had “failed to acknowledge the harm she has caused and enabled.”

This question of harm—of whether and to what extent it has actually been done—is central to debates about racial fraud, particularly when the person accused has done good work in the community. With academics, harm is often, though not entirely, a matter of stolen opportunities. Martin told me about the difficulties she has had paying for her education, and about the necessity of fellowships and financial-aid opportunities aimed at Native students. Hoover had seized such opportunities her entire academic life, Martin said.

Edd suggested that Hoover’s lofty career was symptomatic of a larger identity problem within the academy. “There’s a prevalence of white people and white-passing people within ethnic cultural studies, whether you’re talking about African American studies, Latino, Asian American, or Native American,” she said. “There is a centering of whiteness that is felt within the fields, within the academic discourse, but also within the institutions who hire the people who make up these departments.”

I heard versions of this point from several of Hoover’s former students and colleagues. Hoover dressed the part, they said, but was also able to ingratiate herself with senior faculty—who may have subconsciously gravitated to someone who, behind the beads and the regalia, was just like them. “People who either have a story of a Cherokee ancestor or maybe actually have one in 1820, but who code as white, and come from a middle- or upper-middle-class background, there’s a certain kind of white privilege that opens doors for you,” Kim TallBear told me. “They’re more comfortable for people.”

Nearly four hundred people have signed the students’ letter. Hoover’s department asked the university’s Restorative Justice Center to work with students who felt betrayed, and also with Hoover, to discuss the harm she’d caused. Hoover then released her second statement, titled “Letter of Apology and Accountability.” In it, she writes, “I was first directly challenged in my Indigenous identity when I began my first assistant professor job.” The word “harm,” and its variants, makes thirteen appearances. Hoover never says that she lied, but she refers multiple times to “broken trust” and insists that she is deeply sorry. “I have put away my dance regalia, ribbons skirts, moccasins, and Native jewelry,” she writes. “I’ve begun to give away some of these things to people who will wear them better.”

“Excuse me, can I ask how you guys come up with such believable dialogue?”

Cartoon by Will McPhail

Reading this second statement, Kathryn De Master thought back to a visit she and a colleague had made to Hoover’s house months before, to ask Hoover about her past. If De Master and others in the department were going to support. Hoover, they needed to have a full accounting of the facts, and they needed to hear them from her. The three colleagues sat together on Hoover’s porch. De Master asked Hoover if there had ever been questions about her Native heritage before she arrived at Berkeley, and Hoover emphatically said no. (Hoover denies saying no.)

I first contacted Elizabeth Hoover in May, 2023, the day after she published her second statement. We met shortly afterward, in a coffee shop in Berkeley. Living in a college town, one meets more than one’s share of academic narcissists, but Hoover didn’t come across as that type. Her charm and intelligence were obvious. She spoke of the wreckage of her life with a dark, engaging humor.

I told Hoover that others remembered her speaking of a connection to a family named Brooks, and then to the Rivers and Two Rivers families. If she had never researched her family, as she claimed, where did these names come from?

“I’ve had one story, which is the story that my mother gave me,” Hoover insisted. “My mom’s grandma was Adelaide Rivers, and she was under the impression that it used to be Two Rivers and she shortened it.” The Two Rivers family does in fact exist, though Hoover has no connection to it. She denies mentioning the name Brooks to anyone.

I asked why she didn’t enlist the help of Katsi Cook—who, despite all the allegations, still loves Hoover—in order to find her people in Kahnawà:ke. She reiterated her point about not meeting the criteria for enrollment. “I know other people who have been rejected in this way,” she said. “There’s not an ethos of ‘Yes, please come home and reclaim.’ People, when I would reach out, were prickly towards me.” She added, “I should have put myself out there. I should have just sucked it up.”

At one point, Hoover suggested that she didn’t investigate things further because the great-grandmother she’d heard about was not inspiring. “When people are, like, ‘Oh, draw on the strength of your ancestors,’ mine weren’t,” she said, alluding to Adeline Rivers. “She cracked and killed herself and abandoned her kids. So I lived in the present. And I went with the people that took me in and taught me and accepted me and didn’t provide this kind of resistance.”

How does one square these statements with Hoover’s reference, in an e-mail about Kahnawà:ke, to “people who knew people i’m related to”? Or with what she allegedly told friends at Weston’s wedding? Does it seem plausible that Hoover, a budding anthropologist, would have arrived in Kahnawà:ke, come so close to finding answers about who she was, and then just walked away?

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