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Three University of Kansas professors now accused of falsely claiming Native American ancestry

Accusers say all three professors are white and have built careers on false claims

Three University of Kansas professors, historian Kent Blansett, biologist Raymond Pierotti and geographer Jay Johnson, now have been accused of fraudulently representing themselves as Native Americans.

Blansett (pictured, left) was accused of misrepresenting his lineage by journalist Jacqueline Keeler, who investigates those who falsely claim Native American ancestry, as well as by AncestorStealing, a website that publishes research on the subject, The College Fix reported earlier this month.

On the heels of that article, The Kansas City Star recently reported that “some Native grassroots groups and researchers allege [Professor] Raymond Pierotti in the department of ecology and evolutionary biology and [Professor] Jay Johnson in the department of geography and atmospheric science are also ‘pretendians’ – slang to designate someone faking Native American heritage.”

These accusers “say, based on independent research of the men’s family trees, that the professors are white, and white only, and that they’ve built careers and profits off of a lie,” according to the Star.

The Fix reached out to the Tribal Alliance Against Frauds, a grassroots whistle-blower association comprising citizens of federally recognized tribes and allies and dedicated to “expos[ing] ethnic frauds,” to ask for information regarding the accusations against Blansett, Pierotti (pictured, center) or Johnson (pictured, right).

“Those KU professors you mentioned are indeed ethnic frauds pretending to be American Indians,” director and co-founder Lianna Costantino said via email. “They are not. Their genealogy is up on our website.”

The Fix reached out to University of Kansas media relations as well as Blansett, Johnson, and Pierotti by email asking for comment on the accusations. Neither KU, Johnson nor Blansett responded.

Pierotti responded July 25 with a statement defending his work at KU.

“I am proud of the record I have accomplished, none of which depends on any of the accusations made,” Pierotti wrote.

“The FakeIndians blog’s sources seem to assume that any scholar who works with Indigenous people has been hired solely on the basis of ‘Indian identity,'” Pierotti continued. “This is both insulting and incorrect.”

KU has been told of allegations against the professors but has ignored them, author told The Fix

Keeler, the author and journalist, reiterated the allegations of fake ancestry against all three professors in a phone interview with The College Fix. 

“Kent Blansett is an opportunist who counts on people not checking his claims,” Keeler (pictured) said. “He fabricates information and he often changes and embellishes his story.”

Keeler said Johnson and Pierotti also have been investigated and found to have falsified their family history. Both Johnson and Pierotti’s family trees can be viewed at Ancestry.com.

Keeler told The Fix that Pierotti’s family wrote a letter to KU outing him after his mother’s death.

His maternal grandparents were Polish immigrants, and it was his mother’s “dying wish” the public would know her own mother, who Pierotti claims was Comanche, was “a proud Polish woman,” Keeler said.

Keeler said although KU has been made aware of the allegations against the professors, the university has ignored them.

Keeler’s publisher, Torrey House Press, describes her 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.”

Universities are often eager to hire as many outspokenly Native American faculty members as possible because this gives them access to funding, such as the Melon Foundation NAIS grant for Native American and indigenous studies, Keeler said.

Universities are also hesitant to question ancestry claims because of the possibility of being sued for violating anti-discrimination laws, according to Keeler.

“During the Civil Rights movement, all we [Native Americans] wanted was to be equal researchers instead of just a research subject,” Keeler said, “Now 60 years later, academia has responded by hiring pretendians who are white people larping as Natives.”

“Larping” in this context reveals to a role-playing game, in which individuals pretend to be fictional people or characters, according to Merriam-Webster.

The AncestorStealing website, which uses the header “FakeIndians,” has detailed the family history of Blansett and also refers to Johnson and Pierotti.

“Many terms are used to describe the people who falsely claim a Native status; wannabe, fauxahantas, even 7-UP,” a July 27 post titled “How to Spot a Pretendian” states.

“We also have our own ‘pet names’ for individuals,” the blog author, “Sam,” continued.

“Example, the three at the University of Kansas, Periotti, Blansett and Johnson, also known as ‘PB&J’… the KU PB&J is made from stale peanut butter, and sugarless jam. It has no quality substance. They have also been called the ‘KU Fraud Squad.'”

The Fix reached out to the FakeIndians blog by email on July 20 with questions regarding Blansett’s claims of ancestry from five tribes.

“Kent Blansett uses five tribe claims, yet only gives three surnames,” blog spokesperson Keely Denning responded. “He has also refused to state which surname belongs to each tribe he claims.”

“One surname he uses is the name Panther, which is actually my family,” Denning continued.

“When I wrote to him and asked him, he replied that it was a different tribe, did not name the tribe, and told me to ‘f*** off’, he then blocked me and I cannot retrieve that email,” Denning stated.

“In 1999 he only claimed to be ‘Cherokee and Keetoowah,’ and since has dropped the Keetoowah claim. Today he claims he has always claimed the same tribe,” Denning continued.

“Blansett claims he has evidence, yet will not produce it,” Denning said.

Blansett is a member of the Center for Great Plains Studies and the Western History Association, according to each organization’s website. The Western History Association’s executive director is Blansett’s wife, Elaine Nelson.

The Fix reached out to the Center for Great Plains Studies and the Western History Association via email July 26 asking whether the organizations were aware of the allegations against Blansett, and if he would remain a member. No responses have been received.

The Fix also reached out to the Native American Rights Fund, Kansas Native American Genealogy, the Cherokee Nation, and the Choctaw Nation on July 25 with questions regarding each of the three KU faculty members.

The Native American Rights Fund and the Choctaw Nation both replied on July 26 saying that they have no comment on the matter.

MORE: Fauxcahontas: White female scholars keep pretending to be Native American

IMAGES: University of Kansas, Torrey House Press

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