May 23, 2024

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Chief of Shawnee Tribe says KU professor falsely claims Indian descent

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A University of Kansas professor who claims to be of Indian descent is falsifying his ancestory, according to Shawnee Tribe Chief Ben Barnes.

KU History Professor Kent Blansett is slated to appear as a keynote speaker and Native American expert 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.” 

Shawnee Tribe Chief Ben Barnes tells the Sentinel that Blansett’s ancestry claims are false.  

Chief of the Shawnee Tribe Ben Barnes

“All of the five have confirmed that he’s not a citizen,” Barnes said. “I wish I could honestly tell you what’s going on at KU, because I’ve not gotten a satisfactory answer.”

Barnes said he first became aware of Blansett just before the Pandemic when he found out Blansett would be speaking at a conference he was planning to attend.

“I’m a member of the American Society for Ethno-History,” Barnes said, adding there was going to be a conference at KU at which Blansett was to speak. “I got to looking and I’m like ‘holy crap, this guy, he’s not even native.’

“We did a little more digging and found there’s a little cadre of them, and so it becomes very difficult for Shawnee people to enter in to that fishbowl of the American Society for Ethno-History, which I’ve attended since 2014.”

Barnes said KU effectively ignored his complaints.

“I contact the university say, ‘Man, this is messed up,'” he said. “And they thought that he and I should visit, and that’s where the university left it. 

“It’s kind of like, ‘you know, this is not our problem. You guys work this out.'”

Barnes said with the pandemic Blansett’s alleged fraud was pushed down his priority list, but returned to his attention when he found out Blansett would be speaking to a larger audience “about his experiences as a native person.”

“That just blows me away,” the Chief said, drawing a parallel between Blansett and Rachel Dolezal, the former NAACP executive who pretended to be Black — and Native American.

“How would you go to Rachel Dolezal and ask her what it was like growing up as African American?” Barnes asked. “You can’t because she didn’t. That is exactly the issue. His scholarship is predicated on his experience within native communities — he doesn’t have any.”

Blansett and two others outed by journalists

Blansett was initially 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 one of three University of Kansas professors accused of fraudulently claiming to be members of Native American Tribes in order to advance their careers. 

The Kansas City Star also reported on the issue.

According to The Fix, 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.

Blansett (left), Pierotti (center) and Johnson (right). Photo courtesy of The College Fix,

Blansett is joined by biologist Raymond Pierotti and geographer Jay Johnson as “pretendians,” according to The College Fix.

The Fix reports that they reached out to the Tribal Alliance Against Frauds, a grassroots whistle-blower association comprising citizens of federally recognized tribes dedicated to “expos[ing] ethnic frauds,” to ask for information regarding the accusations.

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

Barnes said the alleged fraud is a deeper issue.

“Let’s just stop for a minute and ask ourselves, ‘if this was bad for Rachel Dolezol, if this was bad for Elizabeth Warren? And that was a long time ago,” Barnes said. “[These] guys are actively doing it now. And they’re controlling the scholarship. They’re controlling what gets published and what gets taught. What kind of weird ideology and groupthink are these guys pumping out there in the young people’s minds?”

In the preface to one of his books, Blansett stated: “Despite coming of age in the Jim Crow south, my dad persevered against overwhelming obstacles as an Indigenous man,” something Chief Barnes treated with derision.

“There’s a picture that you can find of his dad,” Barnes said. “He looks Swedish.”

 

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