White folks who claim to be American Indians – for prestige and profit – are a familiar element in American life.
(“The Simpsons” lampooned this phenomenon in an episode called “Little Big Girl,” where Lisa passed herself off as a member of the “Hitachee tribe.”)
Most notoriously, there was the actor Iron Eyes Cody, who shed a famous tear in a 1970s TV ad. Cody claimed to be part Cherokee and part Creek... but a journalist in 1996 exposed him as Espera di Corti, son of Italian immigrants.
And there was Forrest Carter, author of a popular memoir called “The Education of Little Tree.” Mr. Carter claimed to have been raised by his Cherokee grandparents.
In reality, his name was Asa Earl Carter, and he was whiter than white; he was a former Ku Klux Klansman.
Then, in 1999, a new literary voice emerged in the pages of Esquire magazine – Nasdijj, the tragic half-breed son of a Navajo mother, raised on the reservation. Except he wasn’t.
After publishing three books about his life as an Indian, Nasdijj was outed by L.A. Weekly as Tim Barrus, plain ol’ white guy.
And how about this radical-left loudmouth?: “... I am myself of Muscogee and Creek descent on my father’s side, Cherokee on my mother’s.... The truth is, although I’m best known by my colonial name, Ward Churchill, the name I prefer is Kenis, an Ojibwe name bestowed by my wife’s uncle.”
Uhhh... not quite. A 2005 Rocky Mountain News investigation determined that Ward Churchill – a professor of “ethnic studies” – has no Amerindian ancestry whatsoever.
Now we come to a 1960s folksinger named Peter La Farge (pictured right). AllMusic.com describes La Farge as “the first politically aware Native American to attract serious attention” in folk music.
Except he wasn’t Native American.
La Farge purportedly was “an American Indian of the Nargaset tribe”... “raised by members of the Tewa tribe on the Hopi reservation” in New Mexico. Supposedly he got the name “La Farge” when he was adopted by Oliver La Farge, a Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist.
You know where this is going, right?
Music researcher Yuval Taylor (pictured left) last year reported that Peter La Farge is actually Oliver La Farge’s natural-born son, not an American Indian.
Peter wasn’t raised on the rez either. He was raised on his white stepdad’s Colorado ranch.
Let’s take a quick look at the life of lying-ass Pete La Farge. He was a rodeo rider, amateur boxer, Korean War serviceman and stage actor before he decided to focus on music. He became part of the Greenwich Village folk scene, hanging out with Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger and Ramblin’ Jack Elliot.
Signed to Folkways Records, La Farge recorded five albums on Native American themes between 1962 and 1965.
Click here to hear “I’m an Indian, I’m an Alien,” from the album “Peter La Farge on the Warpath.”
Johnny Cash covered one of La Farge’s tunes – “The Ballad of Ira Hayes” – and it was a major hit. Click here to hear it. (It’s about the American Indian Marine who helped raise the flag at Iwo Jima.)
La Farge died in 1965 under mysterious circumstances. Some say it was a stroke, some say a drug overdose, some say suicide. Either way, Peter La Farge is fondly remembered by folk-music aficionados... who still believe he was a real Indian, not a fake Indian.
“Peter was a genuine intellectual,” wrote Johnny Cash in his autobiography, “but he was also very earthy, very proud of his Hopi heritage, and very aware of the wrongs done to his people and other Native Americans. ... [H]is was a voice crying in the wilderness. I felt lucky to be hearing it.”
As Yuval Taylor writes: “Pretending that he was an Indian was absolutely essential to La Farge’s ability to get across his message.”