Editor’s note: Michael Ackley’s columns may include satire and parody based on current events, and thus mix fact with fiction. He assumes informed readers will be able to tell which is which.
Recently an informed reader suggested that while most are able to tell fact from fiction, there are times when it would be helpful to specify which is which. Perhaps this column is one of those. Therefore, we shall specify “fact” and “satire” – this once, anyway.
We thought the controversy over Elizabeth Warren’s “Indianness” had gone to the happy hunting ground, but last week a Cherokee organization put up a website titled, “Cherokees Demand Truth from Elizabeth Warren.”
Among other things, it said, “We have researched Ms. Warren’s ancestry in the line she claims to be Cherokee through, as well as researched the collateral lines connected to that family. There is absolutely no indication of her having anything other than Caucasian ancestors.”
This was a blow to me personally, because Warren, the blonde, blue-eyed Massachusetts Senate candidate, keeps saying she knows she is one-thirty-second Indian because her mother told her so, and her mom wouldn’t lie.
Well, my dad told me more or less the same thing – that we Ackleys, according to family legend, had Cherokee blood. Like Warren’s mom, my dad wouldn’t fib.
Further “evidence:” When my wife and I traveled as VISTA volunteers to Texas in 1966, we drove south from Tulsa, Okla., on the Indian Nation Turnpike, right through Cherokee territory. During a rest stop near the Oklahoma/Texas border, I checked the local telephone directory. The first nine listings were for Ackleys.
Beyond this, there are a bunch of Ackleys on the official list of Cherokees known as the Dawes Roll. There also are a couple of Ackley Creeks. (Beyond that, I found two Ackleys listed as Chippewa on the rolls of the famed Carlisle Indian School. I cannot explain this aberration.)
A Creek or Cherokee connection might have some credibility for me, for there were a bunch of Ackleys – or Hackleys – in the colonial South who may have intermarried with the “civilized tribes,” the Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, Chickasaw and Seminole. Thus, some Ackleys might have been forced onto the “Trail of Tears” that ended in what is now Oklahoma.
Never mind that my Ackley genealogy starts way up north with a John Ackley, who arrived in Connecticut in 1635 or thereabouts.
Anyway, my honored Cherokee heritage, as sketched out by my father (we’re descended from a chief, of course), did me no good. I didn’t benefit, either in education or the professions, because – unlike Elizabeth Warren – I grew up before affirmative action and the cult of diversity. It never occurred to me – nor was there an opportunity – to gain position or perquisite from my supposed forebears.
Perhaps this can be remedied retroactively. Therefore, I demand that the University of California, Berkeley, pay me the grant in aid I should have had, with interest. I demand that my grades be modified to reflect the fact that my culture was preliterate, and I can’t have been expected to absorb all the required reading that I didn’t do.
I demand that the university administration grant me emeritus membership on a faculty seriously lacking in Native-American scholars.
I demand that I ascend to the executive ranks of the white-dominated publishing world, in the interest of diversity, and that I be given my own column in the New York Times and the Washington Post, as well as the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, the San Diego Union and the McClatchy newspapers. Through this column I will be able to provide readers the Native-American perspective on the news.
I demand the right to start a casino in my backyard, and I demand my fair share of Cherokee oil royalties. Perhaps most important, I demand reparations for the theft of my ancestral lands in the southeastern United States.
And while I’m at it, I might as well demand a major party nomination to the U.S. Senate.
Of course, this is no joke to bona fide Cherokees. To them, a false claim of Indian ancestry amounts to the theft of their culture and – for descendants of those who trod the Trail of Tears – their suffering.
Their website declares, “Ms. Warren’s ancestors were not Cherokees and neither is she. We, as Cherokees, cannot allow Ms. Warren to continue on with her false claims. If we allow someone as high profile as her to get away with it, then everyone else will expect a free pass as well.”
I guess this leaves me out as well. As the true Cherokees say, family lore and legend are proof of nothing, except, perhaps, the romanticization of “Indianness,” coupled with a desire to exploit it.