Responding to Darryl Leroux on Twitter

These days, many people are learning about ethnic fraud on social media, which makes it challenging to distinguish genuine fraud from the many Indigenous people who are routinely harassed about their “authenticity.” Twitter is obviously not the place for nuanced conversation. But I went ahead and posted the following thread on January 15, precisely because Darryl Leroux has such a large following there (and because he gets so much mileage there for his claims that “all Abenaki groups in New Hampshire and Vermont are fake”):

  • A long thread for people following the #raceshifting conversation #onhere, who may be concerned or even confused, especially in the New England context. Even longer detail and context at dawnlandvoices.org.
  • A scholar named Darryl Leroux has published a fascinating book on #raceshifting in Canada. He is expanding his reach now into northern New England where, he claims, all Abenaki tribes are “fake.”
  • I read his book with great interest, and know that other scholars who have worked in this field for decades will be eager to see his groundbreaking findings with respect to the Abenaki, esp as he is a relative newcomer to Native American and Indigenous Studies. Still, some words of caution about how he is forecasting that research #onhere:
  • Prof Leroux has been disseminating a 2019 decision from the Abenaki Band Council in Odanak, Quebec, basically disavowing Abenaki groups south of the 49th parallel. Please remember that internal divisions and even lateral violence are not uncommon among Indigenous groups (or indeed among any groups), and that they may be produced as much by colonialism itself as by any “truth” about individual or collective identities.
  • In short: the history is complicated and can’t be encapsulated in a tweet or even an article or a book.
  • Prof. Leroux also likes to repeat the fact that the state of Vermont has treated Abenaki petitions for federal and state recognition quite inconsistently over time. Please remember that this, too, is unfortunately common. The case of the Mashpee Wampanoag has become a textbook case of racism within the recognition process.
  • In short: “Recognition” is a colonial process,  and as such has colonial flaws.
  • Now, unless Prof. Leroux is a total hack, which I don’t think he is, he knows these things—that colonialism produces internal division and inconsistency in recognition. He knows them as surely as Ted Cruz knows there was no election fraud, and Josh Hawley knows that Simon & Schuster isn’t violating his 1st amendment rights. So why does he promote these facile claims?
  • I am afraid the answer lies in one of his uglier, more recent tweets, which put a picture of the Q-Anon “shaman” alongside photos of 3 New England Abenaki leaders—all relatively light-skinned men, all wearing Indigenous clothing and regalia. This was a frankly appalling thing for a self-respecting scholar to do, because it helps propagate the racist idea that to be authentically Indigenous, one must look “Indian,” phenotypically.
  • Indeed, whether or not this was his intent (and I have to believe it was not), other tweets by Prof. Leroux have elicited horrific, anti-black remarks about other Indigenous tribal nations. The problem is that Twitter and other social media *algorithmically reward* racism and race-baiting, anger and hatred.
  • If we really want to use these media to educate the public about the problem of #raceshifting and ethnic fraud, we need to do so with great caution and sensitivity. For an example of how that has been done, you can take a look @GB20209
  • Perhaps the lesson here is that when it comes to adjudicating who is and is not Indigenous, it’s best to leave that job to Indigenous people themselves.

Finally, neither Prof. Leroux nor any of his followers seem to be consulting (a) NH or VT Abenaki people themselves or even (b) any of the rich scholarly literature about Abenaki history. If you want to learn more about the complexities of Indigenous identity, persistence and historiography in New England, here are two good places to start:

  • Colin Calloway, ed. After King Philip’s War: Presence and Persistence in Indian New England (especially David Ghere’s chapter on “The ‘Disappearance’ of the Abenaki in Western Maine”); and
  • Jean O’Brien, Firsting and Lasting: Writing Indians out of Existence in New England

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