Posted on March 27, 2023

Hollywood’s Top Native American Producer Is a Fake, Activists Claim

Joshua Rhett Miller, New York Post, March 26, 2023

One of Hollywood’s leading Native American figures is being accused of faking her claims of Cherokee heritage, The Post can reveal.

Award-winning Heather Rae, 56, serves on the Academy of Motion Pictures’ Indigenous Alliance, previously headed up the Sundance Institute’s Native American program and claims “my mother was Indian and my father was a cowboy.” Multiple prior news reports have also cited her as having a Cherokee mother.

But a watchdog group called the Tribal Alliance Against Frauds is now demanding the Academy and the producer drop her “false claims” while activists insist she’s at best 1/2048th Cherokee.

The group accuses her of profiting from usurping “real American Indian voices and perspectives” and being a fraudulent so-called “Pretendian.”


Ironically, Rae was already caught up in the highest-profile “Pretendian” scandal to hit Hollywood. The producer was thanked by the Academy last year for brokering an apology to Sacheen Littlefeather.

Littlefeather was blacklisted in Hollywood for appearing on Marlon Brando’s behalf to decline his 1973 Best Actor Oscar and jeered as she spoke up for Native Americans, claiming she was Apache.

But after her death in October, Littlefeather’s sister revealed she was a liar, who had faked her identity all along.


The Tribal Alliance Against Frauds director Lianna Costantino told The Post: “Being an American Indian person is not just about who you claim to be, it is about who claims you.

“And it’s much more than just race. We are citizens of sovereign nations. Being an Indian is a legal, political distinction.”


Over the years, she has burnished her credentials, which center on a claim that her mother, Barbara Riggs, was Cherokee.

She has a tattoo of Selu, a Cherokee corn goddess and in 2016 told a New Zealand conference: {snip}

“And, um, my mom was Indian and my dad’s a cowboy. I am not conflicted – I mean, there are times. It was interesting at home.”

She joined the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 2016 and her place on its Indigenous Alliance makes her a key figure in its Native American outreach efforts.

Rae has cited her “Indian” ancestry throughout her successful producing and directing career, although she is not an enrolled member of any tribal nation.

She works as a “narrative change strategist” for IllumiNative, an “unapologetically ambitious and innovative Native women-led” racial and social justice organization which says it works to amplify “contemporary Native voices” while challenging the “invisibility” of Native Americans.

And her latest project, “Fancy Dance,” is a drama about a Native American woman who kidnaps her niece from the girl’s white grandparents that premiered at January’s Sundance Film Festival. {snip}


But TAFF highlights research which argues that far from being half-Indian, Rae has no ancestors recognized by the three Cherokee nations: the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, the Eastern Band of Cherokee and the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians.

The research includes a divorce certificate from 1969 showing both of Rae’s parents, Vernon and Barbara Bybee, listed as white.


Census and other records show her maternal grandfather’s ancestors all identifying themselves as white.

Only one of them – Rae’s fourth great-grandparent, Jane E. Lassiter – has a possible Cherokee link, through a claim that Jane’s father Archibald Lassiter was one-eighth Cherokee, which would make Rae 1/2048th Indian.