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History professor and Native American expert accused of faking ancestry

Author researched his family tree and allegedly found no Native American ancestors 

University of Kansas history Professor Kent Blansett, who will appear as a keynote speaker and Native American expert at a fall history conference, faces allegations of fraudulently representing his ancestry.

He has been called out by journalist Jacqueline Keeler, who investigates those who falsely claim Native American ancestry, as well as AncestorStealing, a website that publishes research to expose so-called pretendians.

Blansett is listed as the keynote speaker at the September 2023 Great Plains History Conference. His ancestry on the conference site is detailed as “Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, Shawnee, and Potawatomi descendant from the Blanket, Panther, and Smith families.”

Blansett’s claims of Native American ancestry from the same five tribes also appear in his University of Kansas faculty profile: “Kent Blansett is a Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, Shawnee, and Potawatomi descendant of the Blanket, Panther, and Smith families.”

Blansett (pictured) also holds a “Langston Hughes” associate professorship at the University of Kansas. Hughes is a beloved African American writer and the professorship is meant to honor diversity.

The College Fix reached out to the Great Plains History Conference by email twice in June with questions about the allegations against Blansett. No response has been received.

The Fix reached out to Kent Blansett by email on June 16 and June 22 with questions regarding if he was aware of the allegations against him and if he had any comments. He has not responded.

The Fix also reached out to the University of Kansas, its Department of History, department Chair Luis Corteguera, and faculty member Joseph Brewer, with questions regarding the allegations against Blansett.

“The University has asked me to refrain from commenting on this subject,” Corteguera responded on June 22.

Keeler, an author and journalist who has repeatedly accused Blansett of faking his ancestry, is described by her publisher, Torrey House Press, as a Diné/Ihanktonwan Dakota writer. She is the author of “Standing Rock, the Bundy Movement, and the American Story of Sacred Lands” and editor of the anthology “Edge of Morning: Native Voices Speak for the Bears Ears.”

Keeler, who is the owner of the Blansett family tree on ancestry.com, claims to have worked with genealogists who examined Blansett’s family history and could not find any Native American ancestors.

“Why is @KUHistoryDept thrilled Pretendian Kent Blansett is being published by @OUPress?” Keeler wrote on Twitter last year. “Unless ethnic fraud is a new subfield of Native American Studies?”

The Fix reached out to Keeler via Twitter on June 17 asking about the genealogical work to which she referred. No response has been received.

Writer Jonathan Ellis of The Dakota Scout, which bills itself as “South Dakota’s leading alternative, independent, and locally owned political newspaper,” reported on the controversy recently.

“A university professor slated to give a speech in Sioux Falls later this year is being dogged by allegations that he is not the Native American he says he is,” The Scout reported Friday.

“Blansett has been the subject of a website that exposes academics whose claims of Native ancestry aren’t supported by genealogical records,” it reported. “The anonymous website, titled ‘Fake Indians,’ has published generations of genealogical records on subjects that claim to be Native American.”

Blogger: Blansett ‘does not want people to have the full evidence’

“Truth of the matter is that Kent does not want people to have the full evidence,” the author of the June 8 “Fake Indians” blog post wrote.

“Kent said he can answer any questions about ‘Indigenous ancestors linked to the five tribes’ of which he claims to descend from,” the anonymous author, “Sam,” continued. “He claims to have ‘census records, newspapers, boarding school records, and other genealogical materials.'”

“Anyone can pull records and claim that is their family, iit [sic] must be direct lineal descent, and if he had records that linked him, I am sure Kent would have applied to be enrolled in one of those five tribes of which he claims, he won’t, because he knows, and others know, he is not what he claims.”

The Fix left a comment on the blog post on July 10 and followed up with an email asking for the author to share more information, but no response has been received.

Blansett’s genealogy appears inconsistent with his claims

Blansett claimed that his father, Jewel Leon Blansett, was discriminated against under Jim Crow laws because of his Native American ancestry in the dedication to his 2018 book “A Journey to Freedom: Richard Oakes, Alcatraz, and the Red Power Movement.”

“Despite coming of age in the Jim Crow south, my dad persevered against overwhelming obstacles as an Indigenous man,” he wrote.

Jewel Leon Blansett was born on September 11, 1936, in Water Valley, Arkansas, and passed away on May 12, 2014, in Osage Beach, Missouri, according to his obituary. The obituary makes no mention of connections between the Blansett family and the Native American tribes mentioned in Kent Blansett’s profiles.

No Panthers or Blankets, the last names corresponding to the tribes associated with Kent Blansett, appear on Jewel Leon Blansett’s family tree on ancestry.com. The family tree lists Paynters, Painters and Blanchetts.

Blansett’s mother, Connie Kay Seelen (née Rank), whom Blansett also mentions in the dedication to his book, appears in an obituary for Ethel Spencer-Rank, her mother. Blansett and his brothers are listed as surviving grandchildren of Spencer-Rank. Spencer-Rank’s obituary also makes no mention of Native American heritage.

On the Spencer-Rank side of the family tree, there are no Blankets, Panthers or Smiths.

Blansett is a frequent lecturer on Native American topics

Blansett has published many articles and book chapters including “When the Stars Fell from the Sky: The Cherokee Nation and Autonomy during the Civil War” and “San Francisco, Red Power, and the Emergence of an Indian City.”

Blansett has lectured extensively on Native American history. In addition to his position at KU, he currently teaches classes at University of Colorado Boulder and University of Nebraska Omaha. In 2021, Blansett took part in presenting a series of lectures at the University of Rhode Island.

One of his lectures, “Think Indigenous: Richard Oakes and the Red Power Movement,” drew on Blansett’s book “A Journey to Freedom,” according to URI.

Blansett “spent 18 years researching and writing the first biography to explore the life of Oakes,” the university website stated. “Published in 2018, A Journey to Freedom: Richard Oakes, Alcatraz, and the Red Power Movement has garnered national attention with reviews in the Los Angeles Times, Indian Country Today, Washington Post, and NPR’s Latino USA.”

Northeastern University also scheduled Blansett to give the 2023 T. L. Ballenger Lecture in February. The Tahlequah, Oklahoma school appears to have “postponed” the lecture and has not posted a new date for it, according to NSU’s website.

The Fix reached out to NSU by email on June 16 and June 22 with questions about the allegations against Blansett and if the school plans to reschedule Blansett’s lecture. No response has been received.

MORE: White female scholars keep pretending to be Native American

IMAGE: University of Kansas

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