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Hollywood producer accused of lying about her Native American heritage

Heather Rae (Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for Amazon Studios)

An award-winning Hollywood producer and leading figure in the Native American community is being accused of lying about her heritage.

Tribal Alliance Against Frauds, a watchdog group dedicated to exposing “ethnic frauds pretending to be American Indian people,” accused 56-year-old Heather Rae of faking her Native American background.

Rae, who identifies as Cherokee but is not enrolled in a tribe, serves on the Academy of Motion Pictures’ Indigenous Alliance and previously led the Sundance Institute’s Native American program. Her film “Frozen River” won a Sundance and an Independent Spirit Award and was nominated for an Oscar.

Rae is a “narrative change strategist” for IllumiNative, a “Native women-led” social justice organization. The group aims to “build power for Native peoples by amplifying contemporary Native voices, stories, and issues to advance justice, equity, and self-determination.”

“My mother was Indian and my father was a cowboy,” Rae claimed. The New York Post reported that multiple news organizations had cited Rae’s mother, Barbara Riggs, as Cherokee.

Tribal Alliance Against Frauds claimed that Rae is a “Pretendian” and called her to drop the “false claims.” According to the group, Rae is profiting from appropriating “real American Indian voices and perspectives.”

A divorce certificate from 1969 obtained by TAFF showed that both of Rae’s parents identified as white. Additionally, census records revealed that her maternal grandfather’s ancestors were also listed as white.

TAFF discovered that Rae’s fourth great-grandparent, Jane E. Lassiter, has a possible Cherokee tie. Lassiter's father was reportedly one-eighth Cherokee. The watchdog group explained that even if the link is accurate, it would make Rae 1/2048th Native American.

According to TAFF, records showed that in 1832 Lassiter won acreage in a Cherokee Land Lottery that was only open to non-Cherokees.

“Winning such a lottery is definitive proof of the ancestor NOT being Cherokee,” TAFF stated.

“Being an American Indian person is not just about who you claim to be, it is about who claims you,” Tribal Alliance Against Frauds director Lianna Costantino told the Post. “And it’s much more than just race. We are citizens of sovereign nations. Being an Indian is a legal, political distinction.”

Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren previously came under fire for also claiming to have Cherokee heritage. She admitted that she “made mistakes” after tests revealed she was 1/64th and 1/1024th Native American.

The Academy told the Post that it does not require proof of Native American heritage to join. Rae did not reply to a request for comment, the outlet reported.

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