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Heather Rae

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Producer at Sundance Institute for many years. Among the many works of hers:

Producer Trudell (2005) (director) Frozen River (2008) Wind Walkers (2015) Tallulah (2016) Fancy Dance (2023)

Executive producer Apache 8 (2011) Young Lakota (2012) Winter in the Blood (2013)

Co-Producer   2009   500 Nations   3 episodes

TAAF have researched her ancestry, and found traces of very distant Cherokee at best, none at all more likely.

We've always been clear. When someone commits fraud for their own benefit, money, power, abuse, sex, building a cult, expose them. If someone claims ancestry and doesn't have it, by itself that doesn't matter to us.

Is there evidence in her work of pushing falsehoods, stereotypes, racism etc as Asa Carter did? Not that I can see. Winter in the Blood is a famous novel by James Welch, made into a film. 500 Nations gets used in quite a few schools. Trudell is a documentary I've long recommended to my students.

Is there evidence her false claims ever got her hired? Winning awards or scholarships for Natives?

Is there any sign she knew her claims were false? Maybe if she were young, not trying to find out about your ancestors could be overlooked. She's in her 50s. One could argue she should have done research by now. But many people don't. I haven't seen any interviews with her discussing her family, beyond what's in the link.

Advanced Smite:
Here's a link to an article from Indianz.Com with an excerpt:

Indianz.Com - ‘Not a tribal citizen’ Prominent Hollywood figure Heather Rae has claimed Cherokee for decades - By Acee Agoyo

--- Quote ---The “self-identification” standard, though, boosts people like Rae, who lacks ties to the Cherokee Nation, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians or the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians, the three federally recognized Cherokee tribes. Together, the three tribes have long sought to address fraudulent Cherokee claims, whether from individuals or groups, including those that benefit financially from assertions of their status.

Yet going forward, The Academy’s embrace of “self-identification” will be taking on even greater significance. With the 96th Oscars next year, eligibility in the Best Picture category will be based on a set of representation and inclusion standards — notably whether anyone who claims to be “Indigenous/Native American/Alaskan Native” is seen in front of the camera, worked behind the scenes, or was involved in audience development.

Littlefeather, ironically, delivered remarks at the 45th Oscars on behalf of the late actor Marlon Brando, who won an Oscar for Best Actor in The Godfather, which won Best Picture.

Besides her development deals and her work with The Academy, Rae has been employed since 2018 as a Narrative Change Strategist by Illuminative, which was established, in part, to ensure accurate depictions of Native peoples in media. On behalf of the organization, she led a discussion about Native representation in film and television during the annual Santa Fe Indian Market in New Mexico last year.

In a story published by The New York Post on Sunday, the paper said a “source close to IllumiNative” attempted to connect the concept of blood quantum to Rae’s claims about her tribal identity. Notably, the Cherokee Nation does not base citizenship on blood quantum.

The story also highlighted research conducted the “FakeIndians” blog which said Rae was born to Vernon Ray Bybee and to Barbara Jane Means. According to numerous records posted by the site, no one from Rae’s paternal or maternal family can be connected to any of the three Cherokee tribes.
--- End quote ---

I wonder how much influence Heather Rae had over The Academy adopting a "self-identification" policy. It's concerning to me how IllumiNative is trying to portray Heather Rae as a victim of blood quantum. It is using a real problem, often referred to as "blood quantum genocide", to protect a white person with NO ties to the Nation they are claiming. In my opinion, blood quantum genocide is when children born to a parent with ties to their Nation (either enrolled, documented descendant, and/or living on the reservation) are not eligible for enrollment due to blood quantum. Next will be the bad faith (and lazy) excuse of "colonizer records" - which will be used to dispute any genealogical findings which show someone is not Native American. It is ridiculous when a "colonizer" is allowed to use this excuse when their ancestors can be traced all the way back to Europe.

The same article also has this:

“The Cherokee Nation Film Office provided funding in support of ‘Fancy Dance’ based on its production expenses while filming within the Cherokee Nation Reservation, as well as the film’s more than 200 background actors, cast and crew who provided CDIB verification of citizenship in a federally recognized tribe,” Brandon Scott, the vice president of enterprise communications for Cherokee Nation Businesses, said in the statement.
But Scott said Rae did not benefit from the incentive program, which is the first of its kind in Indian Country. The distinction is significant because Rae — unlike most of the cast and crew — lacks ties to a tribal nation, so she wouldn’t qualify for one of the main requirements of the initiative."

So I'm left wondering, just like with the Elizabeth Warren case, just what TAAF and others hope to accomplish other than shame the person. A lot of calling them "fraud" and "liar." There's no sign either person consciously lied that I can find. No sign they gained anything from the claim, again from what I see so far.

Rae seems much like the late Oscar Decorti AKA Iron Eyes Cody. The crying NDN in those commercials who posed as NDN his whole career, he also did a lot of charity and activism.

No, there's one difference. Decorti knew he was lying. In Rae's case, she's put out some very good films that likely she would not have if she didn't believe herself NDN.

The flip side to that is how could she never do the research into her 50s? If she had been a nurse or a stockbroker or another profession, plenty of people show no interest in their family history. But as a producer, writer, and director, she knew about these identity issues. You can see that in interviews where she defended the casting of Kelsey Asbille and her unproven claim to be Cherokee. Rae could easily have hired someone to do the research for her.

TAAF haven't considered how this case is being used by racists the same way Warren's was. "She's not Native, there are no Natives left, just phonies." And the anti trans bigoted arguments around this. "When a woman can claim to be a man, anyone can claim to be anything."

TAAF's statement.

TAAF - The Tribal Alliance Against Frauds

In the Hollywood Reporter article on March 31, Heather Rae says “I began to really look into my family’s history in a deeper way” and “I’m still in that process, so for several years I have identified as an ally.”

The time to have looked in a deeper (honest) way was before ever claiming to BE Cherokee and centering herself in all these “Indigenous” endeavors as if she is one of us, speaking from a Cherokee perspective she will never possess.  This is the classic backpedaling of a pretendian who has made a LOT of many based on her claims of BEING a Cherokee woman. 

And what she has always claimed to be is Cherokee.  Even with her relatively recent qualifier that she is “not a Cherokee tribal citizen”, she still claimed to be of Cherokee heritage.  She doesn’t understand that this is still centering herself as a Cherokee, as an American Indian woman.   And that is not true.  Stop already.

What she carried forward with her from childhood as a personal “mandate” was a family myth that fueled her white saviorism.
Rae claims to have been identifying as an ally rather than as a Cherokee for some time. 

Yet we cannot find any prior public statements by Heather Rae identifying herself as a non-American Indian “ally”.  The closest we have found are one biographical statement where she is noted to have vague “Native American heritage, but is not a recognized citizen of a tribal nation” and one vague Instagram post where she says “We can be allies, with roots in culture.  In other words, we get to participate in supporting the center, which is a beautiful thing.”   She also said in that post “We can find our place – with respect, integrity and responsibility.”   

It’s a shame she never did any of that.   And this sole, vague reference to allyship that was easily found does not indicate an effort on her part to correct her false claims and become an ally.  Which is a title that is earned, not one that is self-declared.  We are seeing a pattern here…

That is also backpedaling, including the vagaries.   We don’t use DNA, monolithic vague claims of being “Native American”, or blood quantum.  We rely on sovereign tribal nation citizenship, tribal kinship, and documented genealogy.   Heather Rae has none of these.  Period.  There is nothing left to guess at. 

How easy it is now to suggest that she has been working through this for years, privately, speaking to friends and family about it.  If this were true, she should have been transparent about it. 

She was not transparent (did not publicize) about the “reframing” of her identity (her backpedaling rather than truth-telling) until now because she is being called out now.   She’s not sorry for what she’s done, she’s upset that she got caught.  Two very different scenarios.

TAAF has dozens of examples to share of Rae’s centering behavior as a self-proclaimed “Indigenous” woman.  She’s never stopped doing it....
People who self-identify as “Native American” with nothing to back it up other than a vague family myth, like Heather Rae, and then check boxes to get minority status as business owners for loans, or university scholarships or to further their lucrative careers by cashing in on being an Indian are committing ethnic fraud. 

They are usurping the voices of actual American Indian people.  They are centering themselves in spaces meant for American Indians.   Heather Rae is a white savior.  Her saviorism is no excuse for pretending to be Cherokee all these years, which clearly furthered her career.   

To quote Chickasaw citizen Tony Perry:  “Heather Rae, a white woman who claimed Cherokee ancestry, used her false identity to become one of the most influential people in Hollywood.  Rae serves on the Academy of Motion Pictures’ Indigenous Alliance and previously led the Indigenous Program at the Sundance Institute.  Through this, she shapes what Native films people see and what stories people hear.  Rae coordinated the Academy’s “apology” to Littlefeather and, likely, the ongoing exhibit at the Academy Museum that perpetuates Littlefeather’s fraud.”

We wonder why Rae began “reframing” her public identity in 2020?  Could it be that she took a lesson from what happened to Michelle Latimer at that time?   Backpedaling. 

Heather Rae clearly has no respect for tribal sovereignty.  If she did, she never would have claimed to be Cherokee without first doing her genealogy, submitting it to the Cherokee Nation for verification and moving forward appropriately from there, in whichever direction her genealogy took her.... 

While Rae wants to see people who are researching their family myths be allowed the space to do that, which on its own is completely reasonable, TAAF recommends that you don’t claim to be Cherokee in the meantime, until you discover that myth is true.

Where is the acknowledgement by Heather Rae that she has ZERO ties to the Cherokee people?  Where is her apology?   At the end of the Hollywood Reporter story she said “….and there’s an indication those ties could be there.”  Still hanging on to her claim that maybe, just maybe, she could still be an Indian….  She is putting a seed of doubt in people’s minds that we can’t discount her “Indigeneity” just yet.  Where is that indication?  We would surely like to see it.  Because Cherokee tribal genealogists have not been able to find it.
Otherwise, Heather Rae, where is your apology and your commitment to standing down from all American Indian spaces as a non-American Indian woman?   This is very reminiscent of another high-profile white woman who shamelessly argued incessantly with the Cherokee tribe with whom she falsely claimed a connection.  This is NOT the behavior of an ally.  A simple admission of having made a gross error in judgment and an apology would have sufficed.  This is just kicking dirt in our faces. 

Heather Rae’s response should have been:  “I am not an American Indian woman in any way.  I believed my family’s myth without verifying it and claimed a Cherokee identity that did not belong to me.  In doing so, I acknowledge that I have caused harm.  I apologize deeply for that and vow to educate myself and do better going forward as a white ally.”

THAT would have garnered forgiveness and respect.  As things stand, there has been zero transparency, honesty, accountability or apology, let alone amends.

Note:  It is not true that TAAF did not respond to the Hollywood Reporter’s request for comment.  We did reply to Rebecca Sun, several times, letting them know we would like to comment, and providing a phone number as well.  They have not responded to us.

Bolding is mine.

There's much right in TAAF's statement, but a few things off. There's no sign Rae benefitted in any way from her claim of being Cherokee. No scholarship, business loans, or getting hired. Hollywood doesn't have Indian Only Preference like the BIA. Nobody else except tribal govts do.

It's ridiculous to claim you have to be of that people to write or make films about that people. That would mean, for example, that NDNs couldn't write about whites. The problem is if you claim to be writing or acting as an insider.

Rae never did. She produced other people's stories, like Blackfoot and Gros Ventre author James Welch.

I agree with TAAF and wish Rae had been straight forward and said, "I used to believe I am, there's no evidence for it." Just like Warren, she's making things worse with her mistakes.

And right wing racist media are loving this. They seem to be the only ones reporting on it because it pushes their claim that "the real Natives are gone."


--- Quote from: educatedindian on April 03, 2023, 11:21:21 pm ---
TAAF - The Tribal Alliance Against Frauds
--- End quote ---

The permalink to this story is now at this very long URL:

Then there is a shorter and somewhat different press release on the TAAF website:

--- Quote ---TAAF PRESS RELEASE: 4-2-2023

CASE: Heather Rae Bybee, Film Producer
Sovereign Nations falsely claimed: Cherokee Nation

Film Producer Heather Rae responded to evidence that she is not an American Indian in an interview with Hollywood Reporter journalist Rebecca Sun on March 31st.  Rae acknowledges that she isn't Cherokee and that she has been privately "reframing" her identity since 2020 (just as Michelle Latimer was outed).

While this is progress, Rae's response does not appreciate the privilege that her falsely claimed identity gave her throughout her career, or the privilege she takes today in her response to truth.  Quietly backpedaling to reframe references to "Cherokee" heritage is not enough, especially when she continues to identify with the more ambiguous term "Indigenous” and clings to a shred of false hope of Cherokee ancestry, which plants a seed of doubt in the public mind when she says “…there’s an indication that those ties could be there”. No, there is not. We challenge her to show us this “indication”.

Rae found success and influence in film because those she worked with thought she was Cherokee.  Rae acknowledged this when she said: “[Identifying as a Native woman filmmaker] influenced the way in which I engaged with the industry, specifically around systemic change.”  She justifies this by saying she "was always working in the capacity of trying to create space for American Indian filmmakers and storytellers.”  However, this was always done by putting herself first.  Rae used American Indian voices to strengthen her own influence. She betrayed American Indian people and defrauded the public by doing this, for her own benefit.

Simply erasing "Cherokee" references or replacing them with even more vague references is not enough, because her "brand" is that of a Cherokee woman, built on years of work on American Indian related films.  New York Post journalist Joshua Rhett Miller notes that Rae physically branded herself as well with a tattoo of Selu, a Cherokee “corn goddess”.  These are the tactics of every Pretendian.

Rae continues to influence American Indian and Indigenous films through her work on the Academy's Indigenous Alliance, with individual film companies and as a Narrative Change Strategist at IllumiNative.  She cannot fulfil these roles with integrity or credibility, since she is not who she said she was. It is inappropriate to center herself in any of these roles as if she were an American Indian.

If Rae truly wants to make amends, she should resign from these posts and make room for authentic American Indian voices.  She can then reflect on her family history in her own time, rather than at the continued expense of the American Indian peoples whose lives, cultures and histories she disingenuously claims to support. Thus far we have seen no transparency, accountability, apology or amends on her part. Only backpedaling because she got caught and a continued inference that she could still be Cherokee. She is not. And this is not the behavior of an ally.

Note: TAAF did reply to Ms. Sun, several times, expressing a desire to comment for her story. She has not replied to us.
--- End quote ---

Interestingly, on that page there are also three downloads:

• Heather Rae fan chart (png) [Heather Rae Bybee Family Tree]
• HEATHER RAE OP-ED 4-3-23 (pdf)

• The Op Ed seems to be identical to what educatedindian quoted from Facebook.
• The Press release seems to be identical to what I quoted from the TAAF website.


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