In Pretendian/Karendian/Defendian controversy, did New York Post photoshop Native activist?
Our uncanny valley senses are tingling, and that's gross.
The Pretendian/Karendian/Defendian debate is raging in Indian Country — a topic upon which we have a lot of serious reporting to do — but first some definitions:
After a series of high-profile people have claimed to be Native American — from politicians to academics to activists to actors — the term Pretendian has been coined to describe a person who fakes or creates or embellishes a tribal identity. They may not be enrolled in a specific tribe for any number of complex reasons and/or they may be lying to try to take advantage of the so-called “perks” of being Indian without having had the baggage of actually having lived that life. Importantly they are rarely recognized by the communities they claim, and they tend to be purposely vague. Their families may rely on lore and high cheekbones, and that’s good enough evidence for them. As a result, they may have fulfilled quotas at prestigious institutions of higher education or at any number of other places, such as publishing houses, thus taking the positions and jobs and money and power and truth away from Indigenous people. It’s happened time and again, and we all know the popular examples. Mainstream media are increasingly noting the issue, but the surface has only been scratched.
A Karendian and to a lesser extent a Kendian are the terms that some Natives have begun using to call out people who are heavily invested in outing Pretendians. Some Native activists and authors — smart folks who are indeed enrolled tribal citizens — have gone to great lengths to expose frauds. They see themselves as providing a public service, strengthening tribal sovereignty, and if they’re also getting attention for doing it, so be it. People who may otherwise agree with their general arguments, like some of the fellows who currently create the popular Reservation Dogs TV show, consider these individuals to be concern trolls. They argue that such people are using blood quantum as a way to harm Indian identity, in an ironically similar way to how the federal government has done throughout history. Arguments have also been made that Karendians and Kendians are simply going after people they don’t like; Black Natives have had strong and compelling concerns about racism being a possible factor. A whole parody website, Karendian.com, and a Twitter account, the Dept. of Karendians (complete with a federal-looking seal with “Federal Blood Quantum Investigations” as an official motto) has been created by some anonymous characters to satirically denounce Karendians and Kendians. They are using humor to try to diffuse a situation, but they are also riling up those they are satirizing.
So-called Karendians and Kendians have created a third clever term in response to the mockery: Defendians. They argue that such people have been so intensely hoodwinked by the fakers that they will go to any lengths to work with, help and keep the secrets of alleged Pretendians, especially ones whom they are pals with and whom may assist them with publicity or even profits. Alleged Karendians and alleged Kendians tend to strongly dislike that alleged Defendians are turning the the spotlight on them — rather than on the alleged Pretendians that they want to expose — since alleged Karendians and alleged Kendians believe that their efforts will be most helpful in the end to all Indigenous people and tribal sovereignty. Frankly, they may indeed be right. But they also may have agendas that tick a lot of people off along the way.
Definitions in place, enter the New York Post after the New York Times recently did some important new work in explaining the problem with alleged Native fraudsters. The Post, it seems, is always willing to sensationally cover a controversy without really understanding it (full disclosure: this editor has contributed Page Six items to the Post in the past, and they paid well, but the pieces had nothing to do with Indians). So the Post recently reported a basic item about the above three types of people, pointing out that Karendians and Kendians, led by Navajo and Yankton Dakota author Jacqueline Keeler, have created a Google doc list of alleged Pretendians that they are investigating via genealogy, public records and other means.
195 people are apparently currently on the list. It feels like everyone in Indian Country knows about the list already, and a select group — that is willing to ask for permission — has seen it. Some people feel that Keeler is holding the list over certain people’s heads by not just being transparent and publicly releasing it. But she has said she is continuing to work on her research, along with a group of associates. They release info in dribs and drabs on places like Facebook and Twitter. Respected Native elders, such as Doug George-Kanentiio, have supported her endeavor, and she feels more than justified (perhaps justifiably so). At the same time, yet another Google doc has surfaced, accusing Keeler of harassment of Indigenous people.
But now that the Post is on the case, the story is getting really crazy, as if all of the above wasn’t butting up to that borderline already.
In its piece, they included a picture of Keeler that they say is from her Instagram account:
We did a double take when we saw it, because it just doesn’t look like the Keeler we’ve seen in the past. For instance, her Twitter photo looks like this:
The lips seem different, even plasticized. We’re experiencing a queasy uncanny valley feeling looking at the Post pic. We hesitated to point it out because what the hell does a pic of Keeler have to do with this important topic? But we felt we had to say something for one reason alone: We know that Fox News has in the past photoshopped pics of people they are reporting on who they do not like. We know this for a personal fact as a result of previously running a D.C. gossip and satire blog, as well as from media coverage we’ve read in various articles and books about the inner workings at the network.
Could Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post be taking a page from Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News playbook here? We know this photo issue is a tangent to the greater issue, but wouldn’t it be something if the Post did want to make Keeler look strange for some ulterior motive?
We don’t know the truth here. Jon Levine, the reporter of the Post‘s article, hasn’t responded to a request for comment, and Keeler hasn’t responded to an inquiry we posted on Twitter. (Editor’s note: Levine emailed and tweeted this morning, saying the pic comes directly from her Instagram. Keeler did something else, which we wrote about in a new post.)
For the record: We hope no photoshopping is going on. And we hope that our uncanny feelings are misplaced, because this issue deserves much more serious coverage, which we fully intend on doing at Indigenous Wire (and have already been doing at other publications over the years).
We told an editor once that Indian identity is core to every Indigenous story, because identity is what makes us who we are. All the other stuff flows from our identities. If we don’t have real identities, our stories are not Native stories.
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