Self-portrait by Jimmie Durham. Photo: University of California Los Angeles
Arts & Entertainment | Opinion

Opinion: Don't be fooled by Jimmie Durham's claims of Cherokee heritage

Artist Jimmie Durham is being celebrated by a traveling exhibit that plays up his connections to Indian activism and tribal treaty struggles. But artists, scholars and citizens from the Cherokee Nation and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians want you to know Durham is not Cherokee, as he has claimed in the past:
The traveling retrospective Jimmie Durham: At the Center of the World and its accompanying catalog has launched a new conversation about Durham’s claims of being Cherokee, American Indian, and a person of color. Now art writers, museum staff, and scholars are making these claims on his behalf. These false claims are harmful as they misrepresent Native people, undermine tribal sovereignty, and trivialize the important work by legitimate Native artists and cultural leaders.

Durham is neither enrolled nor eligible for citizenship in any of the three federally-recognized and historical Cherokee Tribes: the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians of Oklahoma, and the Cherokee Nation.

Self-determination of citizenship is a basic tenant of any sovereign nation including tribal governments. The three Cherokee tribes, whose history is thoroughly documented and accessible, stem from a history of self-governance that predates the establishment of the United States.

While indigenous identity can be extremely complex, this situation is simple. Durham was not disenrolled. Tribal registration has not closed. Blood quantum is not an issue in this case. Durham simply has no record of Cherokee ancestry and no ties to any Cherokee community. To paraphrase the Cherokee author and lawyer Steve Russell, it is not who you claim, it is who claims you.

Read More on the Story:
Cara Cowan Watts, Luzene Hill, America Meredith, Kade Twist, Lynne Harlan, Pauline Prater, Brian K. Hudson, Candice Byrd, Yvonne N. Tiger and Ashley Holland: Dear Unsuspecting Public, Jimmie Durham Is a Trickster (Indian Country Media Network 6/26)