The Native Scholar Who Wasn’t

Figuring out Andrea Smith’s household historical past wasn’t simple, however midway into my reporting I grew to become decided to try this work, if solely to make clear the info amid the bigger political and cultural debates that at occasions overwhelm discussions of her id. I had requested Cornsilk for assist, however he stated he not had data from the 1990s, and he didn’t bear in mind both of her dad and mom’ names. Neither Andrea nor Justine had written something about their dad and mom within the acknowledgment part of their dissertations, after which there was the problem of their maddeningly widespread final identify: Smith. But ultimately, I used to be ready to determine their mom’s maiden identify — Wilkinson — and utilizing census data, beginning and demise certificates and obituaries, I started to piece collectively the story Smith had for therefore lengthy refused to inform.

Smith’s mom, Helen Jean Wilkinson, was born in a small city in Indiana to what seem like middle-class dad and mom: Her father was an engineer based on a demise certificates, and her mom was at one level a trustee for Luce Township, a farming city of somewhat greater than 2,000 on the Ohio River close to Evansville. Their ancestors seem to have been principally farmers and laborers in Kentucky and Indiana going again generations. Some of Helen’s Kentucky ancestors fought for the Confederacy within the Civil War, and a pair owned slaves. An excellent-grandfather on her mom’s facet, Lyman V. Pierce, was one of many first police chiefs of Owensboro, Ky., a person whose story of killing a romantic rival was narrated not too long ago in that metropolis’s “Voices of Elmwood” tour. But neither Helen, nor her dad and mom, nor her grandparents, nor her great-grandparents, nor her great-great-grandparents are listed in census data I discovered as something apart from white.

Helen went to Indiana University, the place she labored on the yearbook employees and majored in enterprise schooling. At some level after graduating, she moved to California, the place she married a person named Donald R. Smith. They had two youngsters, Andrea after which Justine, and divorced in 1968. Helen died in 2014, however so far as I may inform, Donald Smith was nonetheless alive. But discovering him was even more durable.

Then at some point, Kauanui talked about that somebody as soon as informed her that Smith used to spend summers along with her father in Virginia. I looked for individuals along with his beginning 12 months who had ever lived in Virginia, and ultimately discovered an obituary for the daddy of a Donald Smith who was survived by two granddaughters named Andrea and Justine.

I mapped out Donald’s household tree and located a relative with a working cellphone quantity. After I defined what I used to be trying into, the girl on the opposite finish of the road exhaled. “Yeah, we heard about that,” she stated, “and we just kind of shook our heads.”

Donald R. Smith is alive, the girl confirmed, and he isn’t Ojibwe. He is a white man from Chicago who, like his daughters, may be very good. He was a nuclear physicist with the Pentagon earlier than he retired, the relative informed me. He has a level from M.I.T. His household are principally of British ancestry, and no, he didn’t need to speak to me, however his relative wished me to know that I used to be doing a very good factor writing this text. “Honestly, integrity is everything in academics,” she stated. “So let the truth out.”

But what’s the fact? Or quite, what’s fact sufficient to persuade these “others” that Gary Younge referred to in his essay in The Guardian? After I had proof that Smith’s family tree was simply as Cornsilk had claimed, I talked to a buddy of mine, the feminist historian Emily Skidmore, and she or he identified that ethnicity listings on census data aren’t all the time correct. That wasn’t what I wished to listen to, but when I used to be curious about clarifying the info, I spotted I wanted to do extra reporting.

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