Tribes Balk at Dartmouth’s Native American Director

Dan Frosch, Wall Street Journal, September 30, 2015

When Dartmouth College named Susan Taffe Reed as the new director of its Native American Program in September, it said she would use her role as president of the Eastern Delaware Nations to help Indian students adjust to life at the Ivy League school.

But since Ms. Reed’s hiring, tribal officials and Dartmouth alumni have accused her of misrepresenting herself as an American Indian and the school of failing to adequately vet her background as a leader of a nonprofit group that acknowledges it isn’t an actual tribe.

Ms. Reed says she is of Native heritage, though in response to queries, she didn’t specify which tribe or tribes she descends from. The Hanover, N.H., school has defended her hiring, saying it would never ask job applicants to document their ethnicity. There is no requirement for the program director to be Native American, Dartmouth officials said, but alumni noted that the position is traditionally held by Native Americans.

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Ms. Reed, who earned her doctorate at Cornell University in American Indian Studies and musicology, has written extensively on Native American culture. But at issue is her background with the Eastern Delaware Nations, which describes itself as a heritage group of sorts for Native Americans in Pennsylvania and notes on its website that some of its members aren’t of Indian descent.

In the wake of Ms. Reed’s hiring, leaders from several federally recognized tribes to which the Eastern Delaware Nations claims connections have voiced concerns to Dartmouth administrators.

In interviews, leaders of some of those tribes, and some Native American Dartmouth alumni, characterized the group as “pretendians” and said they had no documented connection to any tribes. Some Native American activists say they can find no records linking Ms. Reed’s family, which has helped lead the group, founded in 1984, to any tribal heritage.

“They basically just formed their own nation and have been playing this role-playing game ever since,” said Jacqueline Keeler, a Native American Dartmouth graduate and columnist for the online newspaper Indian Country Today.

In an email, Ms. Reed said she was of mixed Native and European heritage and had never misrepresented herself. She didn’t respond to additional questions regarding which tribe her family descended from. Most state and federally recognized American Indian tribes have specific requirements for enrollment, including blood quantum requirements, and documenting the presence of ancestors on tribal rolls.

“My Native and non-Native family members raised me to know about my ancestry, including our family’s oral history and traditions that have been passed down for generations,” she said. “I have participated in Native American ceremonies and powwow dancing since I was a little girl.”

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Dartmouth, meanwhile, has resisted calls to remove Ms. Reed, who assumed the position in September. “I can say Susan never represented herself as a member of a federal or state recognized tribe. She was transparent about her professional and personal experience, and we’re satisfied with the credentials she provided,” said Dartmouth spokeswoman Diana Lawrence.

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Last week, the Native American Alumni Association of Dartmouth called for the school to remove Ms. Reed, saying that while the program director needn’t be a member of a recognized tribe, they must be able to relate to Indian students and help them navigate the culture of Dartmouth.

“It has become clear to the NAAAD Board that Dr. Taffe Reed cannot effectively carry out her duties,” the alumni board said.

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