Alberta Premier Danielle Smith says she has Cherokee roots, but the records don’t back that up

Smith alleges her ‘great-great-grandmother’ was Cherokee

Danielle Smith

Danielle Smith says her great-great grandmother is Cherokee. Photo: Jason Franson/The Canadian Press.


With her Wild Rose Party under attack for allegations of racism and bigotry towards the LGBTQ community, Danielle Smith held a press conference back in April 2012 to say that not only was she sensitive to these issues – she had been personally affected by them.

“As a person of mixed-race ancestry I take it personally when accusations of racism and bigotry was [sic] aimed at me and my party,” Smith is reported saying in an Edmonton Journal article at the time. 

A month later, Danielle Smith expanded on her comment about her “mixed-race ancestry” in the Alberta legislature where she told a story about her Cherokee roots. 

“My great-great-grandmother was Mary Crow[e]. She was a member of the Cherokee Nation that had been forcibly relocated to Kansas from the southeastern United States in the 1830s by the U.S. government, a terrible stain on the history of America known as the Trail of Tears,” Smith said according to the legislative records. 

Smith’s claims of Cherokee ancestry came up again during her run to become the leader of the Alberta United Conservative Party in 2022. 

“As someone with Indigenous ancestry, I honour the heritage of Canada’s Indigenous Peoples as one of our nation’s and province’s greatest treasures and strengths,” Smith wrote in a Sept. 28 tweet.

“We must stand in solidarity with our Indigenous Peoples to dispel any and all stereotypes that undermine their invaluable contributions to our country.”

No connection to the Cherokee

But there is no evidence, however, to demonstrate that Danielle Smith’s family is Cherokee. 

According to U.S census records, Mary Frances Crowe was born in 1870 in Georgia about 20 years after the forcible removal of the Cherokee by the U.S. government. 

APTN News worked with a genealogist in Canada to establish Danielle Smith’s family tree. 

The information that was gathered was then reviewed by Kathy Griffin, a Cherokee genealogist who lives in Midland, Texas to verify whether or not Smith had Cherokee roots.

Griffin said it’s not unusual for settlers from Tennessee, Oklahoma, or Kansas to claim some Cherokee ancestry. 

“They always claim their grandmothers or great-grandmothers were full-blood Cherokee Indian,” said Griffin.

“We used to live in a small part of Alabama and a small part of Georgia, a little bitty part of South Carolina, a little part of North Carolina and a little part of Tennessee,” said Griffin of the Cherokee nations.

“I looked through the family tree and none of those people were living near the Cherokee.”

None of Smith’s ancestors are enrolled as members of the historical Cherokee Tribes: The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians of Oklahoma, or the Cherokee Nation.

The Cherokee are a well-documented group. In addition to tribal enrolment, they also kept what was called a “Census of Intruders” that showed people who were living within their territory but were not members of the nation. 

“To be in the Cherokee Nation, they had to live in Oklahoma from 1880 to 1906 to get on the Dawes Roll,” said Griffin.

The Dawes rolls are lists of individuals approved for tribal membership in the so-called “Five Civilized Tribes”: Cherokees, Creeks, Choctaws, Chickasaws, and Seminole.

Smith’s ancestors James Merritt and Marie (also written as Mary) Francis Crowe did live in Bluff, Oklahoma according to 1910 American Census records. 

But Griffin said that there is no evidence that Marie Crowe or her father James Crowe were Cherokee or Creek Indian. 

Smith’s family tree


APTN traced her great-grandmother with facts Smith revealed about herself in a Globe and Mail interview. 

Smith grew up in Calgary to parents Doug and Sharon Smith. In her University of Calgary days she was active in politics and won the presidency for the campus Progressive Conservative club.

There she was influenced by conservative thinker Tom Flanagan.

Smith began her political career as a school board trustee. From there she went on to a columnist position at the Calgary Herald, as well as hosting a Sunday afternoon show on Global Television. 

She joined the Wild Rose Party in 2009.  

According to a profile by Sydney Sharpe, Smith said she was following in the footsteps of her hard-working great-grandmother, who was a school teacher.

“Ethel Parken was a rural teacher and not above doing whatever had to be done, including shovelling coal to heat the schoolhouse.”

APTN reached out to Sharpe to check if Smith had made any mention of Indigenous, specifically Cherokee, ancestry during her interview.

“I do absolutely recall that she said nothing of that to me,” Sharpe said. 

Origins of Cherokee ancestry unknown

This is a claim that was repeated on her radio show in January 2021 according to tweets from a progressive media organization, Progress Alberta. 

APTN was not able to independently verify what was said on the show but did reach out to Corus Radio directors multiple times to ask for a recording. They did not respond. 

Whether the story of Cherokee ancestry came from a family story passed down through generations or not has been difficult to confirm. 

APTN reached out to Sharon Smith, the premier’s mother, to ask about any details she had about Mary Crowe and being a member of the Cherokee Nation. There was no response.

APTN also reached out repeatedly to Danielle Smith through her chief of staff for information on her ancestry and questions about her past comments but did not hear back.

U.S. Census records indicate ancestors were white

According to U.S. Census records, Mary Francis Crowe was born in Georgia in May of 1870. 

She married James Robert Ancel Merrit. Their 1910 census records list them as “white”. The Merrit’s had five children, all of whom are also identified as white in census records.

There is also no record of school enrolment for Mary Francis Crowe with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, although Griffin said that the Cherokee were not necessarily placed in state-run schools.

Also, as Griffin has indicated, there is no appearance on the Dawes Rolls of Crowe or her father.

According to the National Archives website, in most cases, the Dawes Rolls organized people using a matriarchal system based on the mother’s race. 

For example, if one’s mother was Cherokee and father was a white, the person will be listed under Cherokee by blood.

Cherokee identity claims have been an issue for years

“There are so many people that claim that when the last U.S. federal census came out, there were more people trying to be Cherokee than was even enrolled in our nation,” said Griffin.

There has been a dramatic rise in claims of Cherokee identity. 

The original Cherokee homeland stretched across all or portions of eight present-day southern states. By the 1820s, they had ceded 75 percent of this land to the U.S. government.

The sovereignty of the lands are still a subject of legal disputes and in June 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a large chunk of eastern Oklahoma remains an American Indian reservation.

The claims to Indigenous ancestry have created issues in film and academia in Canada.

 

CORRECTION: An earlier version of the story listed Danielle Smith as an only child, she was in fact one of five children. 

Online journalist / Edmonton

Danielle is a Métis writer, journalist, editor, educator, and podcaster who lives in Treaty 6 (Edmonton, Alberta). She has written for both local and international audiences. You can read (or hear) her work at Canadaland, Chatelaine, Toronto Star (Edmonton), Gig City, BUSTLE, Canadian True Crime Podcast, The Sprawl and now APTN News. Danielle covers politics, arts and culture, and Indigenous Issues.

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