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"Pretendian" and Trending

The distinction between a pretend Indian, a reconnecting Indigenous person, and insight into the current trend of cultural identity theft of Native American/Canadian Ancestry.

Photo: Andrew James

What is it about Indigenous ancestry that copious amounts of people are faking their lineage? Is it alleviating racial tension? Is it the need to latch onto an identity that is seemingly more interesting than others? Is it a call to action for clout chasers? Is it out of curiosity perhaps? 

In order to fully understand the harmful effects of actions like claiming false Indigenous ancestry, it is important to understand the history of colonization and its ongoing impacts. Colonization and assimilation efforts have played a significant role in the oppression and erasure of Indigenous communities, and acknowledging the continuation of these malicious acts such as cultural appropriation/ pretendianism can help us move toward true healing and reconciliation.

"Pretendian" Defined

"A pretendian is a person who has falsely claimed Indigenous identity by claiming to be a citizen of a Native American or Indigenous Canadian tribal nation, or to be descended from Native ancestors."

There is not always a black-and-white answer but to be clear, a pretendian is not the same as a person with measurable Blood Quantum who has lost their ways and is genuinely reconnecting with their culture and their Indigenous community. Pretendians are non-Native people with no Indian blood who impersonate Native Americans and this includes those claiming that they had relatives who were Native too.

Nowadays, it is hard for them to hide without everything coming to light and being the apices of the public eye. Indigenous communities can easily uncover the pretend Indians hiding in their midst because, in reality, non-Native people have no affiliation with tribal elders, leaders, or community members that they claim, and tribal members who are closely connected, can easily reveal deceit when it is presented. 

The Racial Identity Theft Crisis

There has recently been a mass spike in claiming false Native American identities, especially in academia. Neglecting to find substantial Native American lineage can truly damage not only the impersonator but can also take away opportunities for the surrounding Indigenous communities. Clout chasers have also increased these false claims. Clout chasers are willing to do what it takes to get their 5 minutes of fame. 

If that means claiming an identity that is not their own, then that is what they will do to get mass likes and a following on their social media platforms. Thankfully, there are Indigenous rights advocates that go so far as to create pages on Facebook, Instagram, and other platforms to reveal the people who are making these false claims.

Coming to a Full Circle

While some may claim false Indigenous ancestry out of curiosity or a desire for attention, it ultimately harms Indigenous communities by taking away opportunities and perpetuating cultural appropriation and erasure. As previously stated, Native communities are very tight nit and are very well aware of the people who reside in their community.

 Social platforms make it easier for the offenders to commit these acts however, there are more groups and advocates who have assumed the responsibility of dealing with these disputes. It is imperative that individuals requesting tribal IDs, Native blood certificates, and proof of family lineage are not insulted but regarded with understanding and respect.