The Tribal Alliance Against Fraud (TAFF) has accused a leading Hollywood producer of faking her claims of a Cherokee heritage.
Producer Heather Rae has been a leading voice in Hollywood on Native American culture and serves on the Academy of Motion Pictures’ Indigenous Alliance and was a past head of the Sundance Institute’s Native American program.
TAAF claims she is a Pretendian and is, at best, 1/2048th Cherokee.
In 2020, Rae told Variety, “In these times the world is looking for vision, and Indigenous voices bring that power and authenticity to the screen. I am honored to work in tandem with Bird Runningwater and his visionary curation of talent, and Crystal Echohawk and her groundbreaking organization to energize representation and Native inclusion. We are thrilled by this partnership with Endeavor Content to bring three incredible stories to life and ensure many more to come.”
Her bio at Speakerpedia claims, “As a speaker and social critic Rae is working with both her settler and indigenous heritage to deepen the dialogue of reconciliation and responsibility in the Americas.”
Award-winning Heather Rae, 56, serves on the Academy of Motion Pictures’ Indigenous Alliance, previously headed up the Sundance Institute’s Native American program and claims “my mother was Indian and my father was a cowboy.” Multiple prior news reports have also cited her as having a Cherokee mother.
But a watchdog group called the Tribal Alliance Against Frauds is now demanding the Academy and the producer drop her “false claims” while activists insist she’s at best 1/2048th Cherokee.
The group accuses her of profiting from usurping “real American Indian voices and perspectives” and being a fraudulent so-called “Pretendian.”
Rae, who was born in California and brought up in Idaho, is best known for “Frozen River.” It won both Sundance and an Independent Spirit Award, and was Oscar nominated.
In 2009, Variety named her as a top visionary while noting her half-Cherokee roots.
Over the years, she has burnished her credentials, which center on a claim that her mother, Barbara Riggs, was Cherokee.
She has a tattoo of Selu, a Cherokee corn goddess and in 2016 told a New Zealand conference: “I grew up in the state of Idaho, which is in Pacific Northwest, in the U.S.
Last year, Rae found herself enmeshed in a high-profile “Pretendian” involving the Academy’s apology to Sacheen Littlefeather. In 1973, Marlon Brando declined his Oscar sending Littlefeather in his place to accept the award. Littlefeather was blacklisted in Hollywood as a result of the stunt.
Rae was thanked by the Academy for helping to negotiate a formal letter of apology.
Well, Heather Rae Bybee, mentioned by the Academy as the one who instigated this honoring of Ms. Littlefeather, was found by Cherokee genealogists, including David Cornsilk, to have no Cherokee ancestry. She built her career claiming to be a Cherokee filmmaker.
— Jacqueline Keeler (@jfkeeler) September 17, 2022
Littlefeather died in October 2022 and her sisters Rosalind Cruz and Trudy Orlandi, said Littlefeather wasn’t Native at all.
The sisters told the San Francisco Chronicle “It’s a lie,” said Orlandi. “My father was who he was. His family came from Mexico. And my dad was born in Oxnard.”
Perhaps for her next project, Rae can consider a biopic of Elizabeth Warren.
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