Heather Rae has been a mainstay among the few Indigenous film industry luminaries in the Hollywood ecosystem. The independent filmmaker previously directed the Sundance Institute’s Native Program (now called the Native Project); she serves on the Native Alliance of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences; and her work often features Native American characters and culture , including 2005 Documentary Trudell, 2008 Oscar Nominated Glacier and 2020 Family Drama Fancy Dance, premiered at Sundance in January.
For decades Rae grew up in Idaho, , describing her ancestry as Cherokee from her mother’s side, an identity that was repeatedly mentioned in the media. But on Sunday, the New York Post published a story about allegations by a watchdog group that she lied about her Indigenous status. An organization called Tribal Alliance Against Frauds, whose website says its mission is to research and expose individuals and groups who misrepresent themselves as American Indians for profit or fame, posted genealogical documents on its blog that indicated that Rae Both sides of the family — at least on the patrilineal side — have been identified as white going back at least six generations, though one branch of the clan has long insisted it has ties to the Cherokee.
Now, Rae speaks EXCLUSIVELY to The Hollywood Reporter about the journey she’s been quietly taking to her roots in recent years and the support of her friends and colleagues. “I started really digging into my family’s history,” says Rae, who hired the services of a professional genealogist. “I’m still in that process, so I’ve considered myself an ally over the years.”
For those not closely involved with close-knit Indigenous peoples, the news may come as a surprise Let them surprise the creative community, but “there’s no trap there,” said a source familiar with the situation. “A lot of people grow up with stories [about having some Aboriginal blood] and she’s been honest with me about her need to go on that journey.”
Rae told )THR She was raised by her mother’s family from northern Oklahoma and southern Missouri who told her they were of Cherokee descent. “When my mother was a child, she participated in cultural and community events with my grandmother and great-grandmother and felt a sense of belonging and identity, so my mother always carried that with her,” she said. “It really influenced me growing up. As a young adult, I had important conversations with my grandparents and great-grandmothers calling for action to bring about change for Indigenous people.”
When she entered the film industry, she was on this mission and quickly established herself in the independent film world, earning a reputation as a leader and champion of Indigenous artists. “[Identifying as an Indigenous female filmmaker] has influenced the way I engage with the industry, especially around systemic change,” she said. “I’m always trying to create a space for Indigenous filmmakers and Indigenous storytellers.” Asked if she felt the obstacles — or opportunities — she encountered were a direct result of being a filmmaker from a marginalized background, she replied Said: “I think indie production is always difficult. Maybe in the past a few We’ve seen so many wonderful native voices rise up this month, but in my career it’s been very challenging to tell those stories.”
Responding to a comment from Rae According to a longtime colleague, “Another lie about her allegations is that she stole all these big, well-paying opportunities for qualified Aboriginal people. I want to see what those opportunities are! They don’t exist. Native stories do are the stepchildren of our industry. A lot of our work is not for profit.”
Rae said that more than five years ago, a man from the Cherokee Nation she knew long time reached out and asked her to get straight : “Do you know what your relationship is with your family?”
“I stopped and thought, ‘I don’t fully understand what my relationship is,'” Rae said of her reaction . “I know my family’s story and the strong sense of connection they feel, but at that point it was important for me to lean in and really start interrogating my family’s story, to stop and have a sense of how I identify myself and do my job. Really take charge so I can represent myself authentically and accurately.”
Although Rae has only now been open about what she calls “refactoring” her identity, she says she is no longer between her and Biographical information submitted by her team described herself as having Cherokee ancestry to begin her search. Review of public mentions since 2020, including material provided by Rae, using phrases such as “her settler and Aboriginal heritage” language, or the omission of any personal Aboriginal references are entirely hers, such as last fall’s press release describing her involvement in the Academy’s apology to the late Sacheen Littlefeather and and subsequent celebrations (who, shortly after her death in October, herself was accused of falsifying Aboriginal status ).
“Secondly, come to me when things happen, maybe someone will identify me as [indigenous], be able to quickly correct the route and send them where they can find what they’re looking for or A direction to connect with people in a particular community,” Rae added in response to a question about how she took the initiative to ensure she no longer identified as Aboriginal.
The Academy’s Indigenous coalition and social justice organization IllumiNative, for which Rae is a narrative change strategist, never explicitly identifies her as Native or an ally, while the Sundance Institute has a long-standing self-identification policy for its global community of filmmakers. One source pointed out that the United States and Canada are the only countries in the world that require official documentation to prove Aboriginal status. Value statement as program. “We respect and uphold the sovereignty and nuances of Indigenous culture, kinship and community, and their right to determine belonging and citizenship… For Indigenous peoples, community takes many forms and we recognize that due to colonization and genocide , the nature of the community has changed, affecting Indigenous peoples in the United States and around the world in different ways.”
The authenticity of Indigenous identity has long been a contentious, complex and delicate issue. The problem. Tribal Registry is in part a political designation of 574 tribes recognized by the United States Federal Government – but it is not Such, for example, includes the native Tongwa people of the land now known as Los Angeles. “Tribal registration number, it’s a prison number,” Yellowstone actor Mo Brings Plenty told THR In an interview last month , “because we are due to the treaty implemented in 1235246782 And born POWs s.”
The U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs says it leaves membership criteria for each tribe; eligibility Common indicators of , include blood volume (a certain percentage of “Indian ancestry”) or someone’s descendants from the base roll (the original list of tribe members). According to the Cherokee Nation’s website, to become a full citizen, a person must have at least one immediate ancestor listed on the Dawes Roll, a Federal Census from 1800-1898.
But systemic forces—including state-sanctioned boarding schools designed to separate Aboriginal children from their families and integrate them into European and American cultures, among other forms of Discrimination against Aboriginal people by law and social institutions – leading to the dilution, whitewashing and separation of Aboriginal heritage by countless affected residents. At the same time, the appropriation of Indigenous culture and full identity remains rampant in American society, from the selection of symbols, dress, and dialects for aesthetics, to the exaggeration of Indigenous affiliations for obvious benefits, such as academic scholarship eligibility. In Hollywood, many actors claim Aboriginal heritage to justify playing Aboriginal characters.
“One of the most important things we must protect in this country is tribal sovereignty, and a really important part of tribal sovereignty is the right of each tribe to determine its own citizenship,” Said Rae, not in Cherokee Nation. “I have the absolute and utmost respect for that.”
When asked if she was interested in Post‘s report on tribal alliance findings Rae paused for a long time at any feeling that distorted her story. “I think there’s a lot of nuance to this identity,” she said. “Because so many people are in this position, trying to navigate their identities and relationships with their communities, there has to be room for people to do this work.” Tribal Anti-Fraud Coalition No Response THR request for comment.
Rae said she has been discussing her exploration of their identities with family members. “[My mother] was of a different generation, so I educated her in many ways and helped her understand how these things work and the responsibilities we have,” she said. “I’ve had conversations with my own children [who have three children with filmmaker husband Russell Frydenberg including Dexter: New Blood female Actor Johnny Sequia], because I want to alleviate any confusion for my descendants. It stops with me. Even if we find those connections – and there are indications that they may exist – I am not a recognized citizen or descendant , that’s the bottom line.
“It’s the cautionary tale, because so many American families have these stories, this understanding that they have this lineage,” she continued, noting her lifelong dedication to The commitment to supporting homegrown creatives hasn’t changed. “This is part of American lore and it’s important to mitigate the myth and start connecting in responsible and authentic ways. I take responsibility for the way I present myself and I want to be who I am. ”