Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Terry Tafoya and Ward Churchill

Terry Tafoya uses his Indian blood and Indian mythology as a popular lecturer on mental health issues, and in several appointments at well-known institutions. Unfortunately, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer has found, Tafoya's Indian blood is questionably thin, his academic record elusive and, worse, his qualifications in psychology are troublesome.

The P-I's well-researched front-page piece by Ruth Teichroeb explains how the charismatic Tafoya jets around the U.S. and Canada appearing at up to 100 events a year -- most of them paid at least in part by public dollars. He typically commands fees of up to $3,000 plus expenses ... all based on dubious claims (among others) that he was raised on the Taos Pueblo in New Mexico (he wasn't), has a Ph.D. in psychology (he doesn't) and a life story that bears little resemblance to reality.

If this reminds you of University of Colorado provocateur Ward Churchill, another dubious storyteller, you're not alone. His own lineage has never been fully explained, and his academic record is clearly cockeyed. His qualifications to teach are certainly doubtful.

I'm wondering: What would make a non-Indian want to fib about his Indian-ness? Or is it just a minor lie among many others? Do the rest of us somehow give more weight to the opinions and teachings of Indians just because they claim Native American blood flows in their veins? Are we so shallow?

17 comments:

Bookworm said...

I think they fib about this one because they're pretty sure they'll get a free pass. With a few exceptions -- the article you cite to being one of those exceptions -- nobody in the MSM would be impolite enough to challenge a Native American (or, at least, someone who purports to be a Native American).

SingingSkies said...

Or is there a layer of guilt lying just below the surface that makes us, especially the Caucasian us, willing to suspend judgment and accept the picture we are presented? There's also a patina of romance (well, that's not quite the word I want, but it'll have to do) surrounding the Native American culture and their approach to healing.

What strikes me is how we so quickly glom onto the credentials one claims and forget to do a bit of delving to determine whether they are true, especially in the current climate of 'too good to be true' celebrities actually being too good to be true. Once we've noticed there are several prestigious names on the list (and from the looks of it, at least some of those names were minimally legitimate clients), we tend to assume the balance of the credentials are also true.

I wonder how many more celebrities, teachers, and lecturers of dubious background will end up surfacing before we shift into skeptics mode.

Anonymous said...

The main issue here is whether Terry Tafoya has a Phd or not. It's much like another case: did George Bush finish his Guard duty or not and earn his discharge.

The article in question is a character assault - with lots of room for people to express their opinions and little room for any verification of facts.

Terry Tafoya has done exceptional work in his career, helping countless people and their families.

His Indianness is not for you to decide.

Ron Franscell said...

His Indianness, even though it might be only half or less, is less important than his claims about his Indian experience -- which he uses to sell his service. But let me also say this: If he were NOT Indian, I could certainly decide he was not Indian. Like Ward Churchill, it's not really honest or genuine for him to claim he is Indian merely because he likes Indians (or can profit from them.)

And if you really believe that hogwash, then George W. Bush's National Guard service isn't for you to decide either.

Anonymous said...

Re: the Indian issue...I find it ironic that to be considered black in this country, some consider the "one drop rule" to be the determining factor. Yet to be an Indian, an individual must present a blood quantum, generally 1/4, to "prove" Indian identity. What ever happened to "self-identification" and why aren't any other groups in this country required to present "proof" regarding how they want to identify? How about groups that "adopt" an individual into their culture? Tribal enrollment is not necessarily the best way to gauge one's Indian heritage. What about children who are less than one-quarter of any tribe, but are descendants of several tribes. If they live within the Indian life/culture, are they any less Indian?
Cultural identify is a personal and complex issue, one that should not be determined by spectators.
Now the Ph.D...that's a whole other issue and I'd love to see other investigations done on folks who falsely claim merit they've not earned. I'd put money on the table that Mr. T's not alone in this area.

Anonymous said...

I am a nephew of Terry Tafoya. My father is his step brother. He is in fact 1/2 Pueblo Indian as my step grandfather, Terry's father, was born in Pueblo Taos NM to native Pueblo Indians. However, I cannot attest to his formal tribal enlistment. I understand that somehow he was able to qualify as a NATIVE AMERICAN for purposes of federal grants and loans to go to college. However, I am saddened by the fact that he has disavowed his true family heritage by not telling the truth about his birth mother, who was my grandmother. He says and Indian woman in Oregon is his mother. His mother who was my grandmother was Spanish, French and Dutch. I agree with one of the other readers that his dishonesty about his academic credentials is more significant than his family heritage claims. As for that, his family will deal with that issue, TRUST ME !

Anonymous said...

I am a nephew of Terry Tafoya. My father is his step brother. He is in fact 1/2 Pueblo Indian as my step grandfather, Terry's father, was born in Pueblo Taos NM, but I cannot attest to his formal tribal enlistment. However, I am saddened by the fact that he has disavowed his true family heritage by not telling the truth about his birth mother, who was my grandmother. He says an Indian woman in Oregon is his mother. His mother who was my grandmother was Spanish, French and Dutch. I agree with one of the other readers that his dishonesty about his academic credentials is more significant than his family heritage claims. As for that, his family will deal with that issue, TRUST ME !

Anonymous said...

After reading the story in depth, this reeks of a lover's tiff. Sorry I don't buy the story of the bookeeper turned righteous. The reporter and the PI both have been had. There's obviously more to this.

Brenda D. Francis said...

I felt so sorry for my tribe who spent thousands of dollars to bring Terry to our tribe.
He is a great storyteller, our people liked and embraced him. He did say some powerful things, but he didn't need to put on an act that he IS Native.
I don't think self-identification, I know self-identification does not count when you are visiting other reservations offering them knowledge about being Native.
I wouldn't have sat there for three days listening to a non-Native tell me about Native American culture, no way.
I think people he lied to should sue him for being misleading. Like I said, my tribe spent THOUSANDS of dollars for him to come and share his knowledge with us. Most of that knowledge was through Native storytelling and his "experiences."

c e boyd said...

This is a shame for all the people, Native and non-native, that earned their credentials. People should provide evidence of their tribal enrollment if they are going to be counted as legally Native American. It is against the law in WA State, where he lives, to fabricate academic credentials. He may be a smart guy but he is selling a service based on those credentials, that makes this fraud in anyone's book.

Anonymous said...

I'm shocked...and laughing on the floor, too. Good for Tafoya. It is in keeping with his message that society must acknowledge the trauma inflicted on the indigenous people in order for us all to move on in our lives. Perhaps he played trickster--assuming you are correct--to reveal your "racial" tendancies. Now, really Ron, who wears a mask? You or Tafoya? I've sat in on Tafoya's classes with other white bloods. Our faces turned pretty red from shame and sorrow over the HISTORICAL FACTS he presented. He's worth every paper dollar that depicts dead president's pictures. Use your CSI skills to hold our government accountable for all the treaties that were written and not fulfilled. As for Bookworm, there is no free lunch of pass. I get up every morning and thank heaven that I'm in America and make sure that I find ways to respect the grandchildren of those who "founded it"...Tafoya and all.

Anonymous said...

Lying about academic credentials is really ethically problematic. Altering your account of your own history as part of STORY telling is less so. I wonder why we haven't heard from Tafoya after this article? At least I haven't seen anything.

And I agree, George W. and his whole crew have A LOT more to answer for for their disfiguration of many truths.

Marcia said...

After our tribes were shattered by poverty, dislocation, deportation and decimation, we, indians were left wondering in search of our identity. Every indian born away from the tribe after the indian holocaust knows that the trip back to our roots is a acomplex search in the darkness, a mix of finding and guessing. Adoption by a tribe or an elder is a common way to rescue our lost relatives. The rule is: if the grandchildren recognize the grandparents, the grandparents recognize de grandchildren.
My respects to Dr. Tafoya for doing that journey back to his roots that honors him. While his PhD may be under scrutiny, his master degree is not, nor his brilliant mind and the content of his lessons.

i.r.puppet said...

what IS the issue here?
the academic credentials?
What exactly is he claiming? then just check it with the schools

the tribal affliations?
again what exactly is he claiming?
just check it with the tribe... (although some tribes have changed their rules recently... but it IS up to the tribe to decide who is a member and no one else)

Anonymous said...

This is a damned shame. I'm a Native American woman; with proof of that, and I'm just getting started towards my degrees to becoming an addiction's counselor. How do you think this makes me feel? He should be ashamed of himself for making the claims he has over the years. Too many people like me do things the long, hard way, and at least have ethics. He should man up, and accept responsibility for all his un-truths, he shall have to face the creator some day. T in Alaska

Anonymous said...

~Sigh~
Again, the 'unsuspecting public' has been hoodwinked, but ask any Native American, and they may see through his act. From what I understand he is using his sexuality as a cop out (claiming he is being attacked for being part of the lLBGT community) this is, however, a total farce and an insult to that community. The reality is he has assumed an identity that does not belong to him.
With all due respect, many wannabees claim Cherokee or Choctaw (to the detriment of the real tribal members), as it might be easier. In the Southwest, making [false] claims are exceedingly hard. If one, for example, claims Pueblo heritage they are met with a flurry of questions that MUST be answered in order to be justified:
1. What Pueblo are you from? what part of the village? North/South Summer/Winter? (other moiety)?
2. Who is your mother? father? Are they in the village proper? what part of the plaza is their house located( see above)? What is your clan (NOTE: you must name the proper clan associated WITH the pueblo you claim eg. "I'm Snake Clan" "Thats not Taos, thats Hopi" Whats your last name? (due to the Spanish influence, last name and patriarchal tracings are prevalent-meaning clan could be traced through the father-I know I know that is colonial bs, but it is what we have at the moment unless there is another revolt--one could only hope!)
4. Certain stories could only be told during certain parts of the year-something mr. T is entirely unaware of.
5. If he is Taos, why is he not endeavoring to speak Tiwa, instead of Seattle, go back and learn his family lineage and ceremonies (at the discretion of the elders). There are people who have heritage from the Pueblos, live in Los Angeles, Albuquerque, or some other God forsaken place and and go back and touch base with who they are.
6. Tafoyas are spread about (due to inter-pueblo marriage), however are most common Santa Clara and San Ildefonso (Like Smith or Chin in a Chinese phone book)
Like any person that has been conned or at least a near miss, they are going to think twice about hiring anyone like that. This could potentially drive away any qualified candidate and turn the place into a Gestapo's heaven-"PAPERS PLEASE!" This is yet another unavoidable insult as the Native community has to deal with idiots like him. If in fact his nephew (who posted earlier) is Taos, then why is Alicia Romero and then governor denying that? best to go back and re-trace roots. DNA tests are ridiculously expensive (arrangement) but yet the right primer, TTTAG GGTTT GGTTT GAGGG TAGGG, could make or break a person's 'career' in this case!
He does, however, have the gift of gab-but he is concurrently kissin' the Blarney stone.


~SF

Water said...

Terry grew up in Pompano Beach Florida. From elementary school trough high school he was a classmate of mine. His step father was the Fire Chief of Pompano. Terry was always a complicated individual and intensly Indian in heritage. While many attack his credentials, he is sincere. He has lived what he is speaking about which is why even "experts" respected his work.

Mark H.