From ‘Chahta’ to ‘Indigenous’ in America’s largest city
Self-described ‘agitator’ changes tribal affiliation story after inquiries
Friday, February 25, 2022
By Acee Agoyo
The leader of New York City’s most prominent and vocal Indigenous group fabricated their tribal affiliation after taking a DNA test, an investigation by Indianz.Com has found.
Asserting a “Mississippi Choctaw” tribal identity in America’s most populous city has opened numerous doors for Regan Brook Loggans. Through a group known as the Indigenous Kinship Collective, the German-born U.S. citizen has solicited tens of thousands of dollars in donations, exploited professional opportunities and has frequently shamed the public into amplifying their ever-growing platform.
Yet prior to the DNA test, Loggans did not identify as American Indian, according to long-time friends and long-time associates. They even stylized their surname with “de” in hopes of drawing attention to Guatemala, their mother’s country of origin.
“Regan told everyone it was a ‘Guatemala’ thing,” an associate told Indianz.Com of the “de Loggans” invention.
The Guatemala connection is one source of Loggans’ shifting identity claims. A recent hiring announcement from The Vera List Center for Art and Politics at The New School, as well as a biography for the Resistance Radio show describing them as “a Native living in the City,” make references to the K’iche’ Maya, a specific group of indigenous people in the Central American nation.
Yet it was a commercial genetic testing company that spurred the self-described “agitator” to expand their affiliation to a tribal nation in the United States, the investigation shows. According to a person with direct knowledge of the exchange, the 23AndMe test kit was purchased by Loggans’ father, Ron Loggans, an experienced journalist who has long identified himself as White in public records since the 1980s. The elder Loggans is originally from Mississippi but spent more than a decade working overseas, where two of his children, including Regan, were born.
After taking the DNA test in 2013, the results of which were obtained by Indianz.Com, Regan Loggans began claiming to be from the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, one of the three federally recognized tribes with ties to the historic Choctaw Nation. Long-time friends and associates say this new identity was used to gain entry into professional spaces, including the National Museum of the American Indian in New York City, where Loggans once served as a “cultural consultant” for an exhibit on Native fashion.
“You can’t make a decision on tribal affiliation based on a DNA test,” Dr. Kim Tallbear, a citizen of the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate who has written and spoken extensively on the use — and misuse — of commercial genetic testing, told Indianz.Com.
By the time Loggans graduated from the Fashion Institute of Technology in 2017, the American Indian persona was fully developed. That year, they wore a turkey feather to the FIT commencement ceremony, saying it was “significant to my tribal region of the band of Mississippi Choctaw.” They described another item of clothing worn at graduation as indicative of someone’s “status of a tribal member.”
“My mother is indigenous Mayan and I wanted to support both tribal camps I belong to, Maya and Choctaw,” Loggans told FIT’s Hue magazine, which described them as a “member of the Choctaw tribe.” A FIT profile published a month prior to graduation also characterized Loggans as a member of the Choctaw tribe” and highlighted their role at the NMAI exhibit, as well as their efforts to address appropriation of tribal cultural property.
Since then, Loggans has consistently amplified the “Mississippi Choctaw” claim on social media and during numerous public appearances, including a recent visit to the nation’s capital. On April 1, 2021, they stood on stage during an event organized by Native youth and, later in the day, repeated the “Choctaw” claim on a public plaza near the White House.
The tribal affiliation story, though, has begun to shift once again. The newer developments occurred after Indianz.Com made inquiries to The Vera List Center, which identified Loggans as a “Mississippi Choctaw / K’iche’ Maya descendant” in a January 11 hiring announcement.
Happy New Year! We’re excited to announce the recent expansion of our team. With the VLC now in its 30th year, we’re thrilled to move forward with an even greater capacity for curatorial, editorial, and community-driven work. Read more here! https://t.co/TrfjLdKKvS
— Vera List Center (@VeraListCenter) January 11, 2022
Following the inquiries, Loggans deleted a significant reference to their supposed tribal affiliation from social media. The phrase “Chahta Sia Hoke” — meaning “I am Choctaw” — had long appeared on Instagram, where they built a large audience over the last four years, primarily based on “Indigenous” content. Loggans also began untagging their account from other Instagram posts in which they had been identified as “Choctaw,” according to a review of the platform.
Around the same time, Loggans independently contacted Indianz.Com and asked to “talk.” But immediately following the request, they deactivated the Instagram profile entirely, leaving no easily visible trace of numerous posts about colonization, cultural appropriation and other Native-related issues.
Still, the story changed a third time once Indianz.Com asked about the status of the account, whose name includes a variation on an anti-LGBTQ slur. Loggans revived the account and told followers that they were being “targeted” by unnamed individuals.
“I will not be bullied out of community by those who don’t know me and have made no attempt to know me,” Loggans wrote in an Instagram story, a less-permanent version of an Instagram post, just days after sending a statement to Indianz.Com.
Despite the recent changes, a digital footprint of the shifting tribal affiliation claims exists through the Indigenous Kinship Collective, whose most outspoken and prominent member continues to be Loggans. The group positions itself as an inclusive and welcoming space for people of all backgrounds in New York City, where fewer than 1 percent of the population of 8.8 million identifies as American Indian or Alaska Native.
Through very public displays of activism, the group also functions as a conscience of New York City when it comes to Native issues, even criticizing other Native people — most notably a prominent Cree artist from Canada — whose beliefs and behaviors are deemed to be out of line. The collective’s actions tend to draw attention in non-Native media as a result of Loggans’ prominence and willingness to be the “agitator,” supposedly on behalf of other Indigenous residents of the city.
“Her actions were openly harmful to Natives and manufactured so many instances of open hostility,” one Native woman who spoke anonymously out of fear of retaliation from Loggans told Indianz.Com.
“Native women got arrested due to her actions,” the person added, referring to events that Loggans organized under the banner of the “Indigenous” collective.
Multiple people who spoke to Indianz.Com described the efforts as going even further. They said Loggans has weaponized the group to bully other Native people who aren’t seen as loyal enough to Loggans and their inner circle. Most of the victims are Native women who end up being ostracized after asking questions about the collective’s finances, vision and backgrounds of others in the inner circle.
While Loggans told Native Max Magazine that their collective “started in 2018 after an Indigenous womxn’s gathering” it was born out of the work of a different Native woman, documents and interviews with numerous people who had first-hand knowledge of the event show. Noel Altaha, a citizen of the White Mountain Apache Tribe, organized the “Indigenous womxn’s gathering” mentioned in the article through a grant received by the American Indian Community House.
At the direction of AICH, which was founded in 1969 to serve American Indians and Alaska Natives in New York City, Altaha told Indianz.Com that she was tasked in January 2018 with organizing a meeting for Native women in the business sector. But as her efforts continued throughout the year, she said she broadened the focus to an “indigenous womxn’s gathering.”
Social media posts from the time show that Altaha promoted the one-day event as space for “Indigenous womxn.” The flyer Altaha commissioned had already envisioned the gathering being extended into an “Indigenous Womxn Collective.”
“You don’t just start a collective on a random day,” Altaha told Indianz.Com. “There is thoughtful planning and intention.”
Of her efforts leading up to the October 27, 2018, gathering and the establishment of the collective, Altaha said: “That’s just another Native woman’s hard work.”
Altaha, who received a master in social work from Columbia University, recalls meeting Loggans about a year prior to the womxn’s gathering while volunteering for AICH as the organization called for the removal of monuments and statues of the genocidal explorer Christopher Columbus in New York City. She said she welcomed the recent FIT graduate’s participation.
“I wanted Regan to be a part of it,” Altaha said of the gathering and of the collective.
But within a few months of the launch of the Indigenous Womxn Collective, Altaha said she had a falling out with Loggans. The dispute arose in connection with the claimed tribal background of someone else who also joined the group and was part of Loggans’ inner circle.
The person at issue was staging performance art and made claims to being from a specific tribal nation. But following Altaha’s questions, the individual removed her supposed tribal affiliation from her social media profiles and from internet sites she controlled, a number of which have since been deleted or are no longer accessible.
Two other Native women with direct knowledge of the events confirmed to Indianz.Com the nature of the disagreement, which became heated enough that Loggans and the individual in question summoned Altaha to a small meeting in early June 2019. Altaha was told by the pair that she was no longer part of the group that she had launched through her contract work at AICH.
“You’re no longer the founder, we are,” Altaha said she was told by Loggans and the second individual.
No other members of the group were present at the meeting, according to Altaha.
“My stomach dropped. My heart dropped,” Altaha said of her ouster, which she now describes as an “organized coup” led by Loggans.
An email sent by Loggans to several Native women in New York City on the day of the confrontation confirms the removal of Altaha from “leadership of IWC.” The use of “IWC” indicates the group was still going by the name that Altaha had been using at least since October 2018.
A month later, an Instagram post featuring a large red image announced “some changes within the collective.” The post acknowledged that no one had been creating content for the account, which Altaha had established and had been controlling prior to the falling out.
“We have taken some time away from instagram,” the July 14, 2019, post read, in which the group was “reintroducing ourselves as the Indigenous Kinship Collective NYC.”
Altaha said she was locked out of the Instagram account, a development confirmed by a second Native woman in New York City. The handle of the account was changed from @indigenouswomxns to @indigenouskinshipcollective which incidentally just announced it was taking a “collective rest from social media engagement.”
“I was devastated,” Altaha said of the end of her dealings with Loggans and the second individual, who no longer identifies outwardly as Native American, and instead has shifted to being a “first generation LatinX” artist and community organizer in the city.
“I cried a lot,” Altaha said of the falling out almost three years ago. “It took time to heal.”
— Noel Altaha (@NoelAltaha) December 5, 2021
More recently, Altaha has been speaking publicly about what she calls the theft of her work by Loggans, who functions as the de facto leader of the Indigenous Kinship Collective. The second individual no longer appears regularly with the group, having disclaimed the affiliation with a tribal nation.
“I want people to know the impact this has,” Altaha said of the takeover of the group by individuals whose tribal identity claims only recently surfaced. “Spiritually and physically, this is deep.”
Melissa Iakowi:he’ne’ Oakes, a Mohawk woman who was born and raised on her nation’s territory of Akwesasne, has dedicated her life to advancing Native causes in New York City and throughout the state of New York. She witnessed first-hand the takeover of the collective by Loggans and said it’s indicative of a long-standing problem.
According to Oakes, organizations based on Native lands in the U.S. deserve leadership from peoples of those lands. Anything else, she asserted, contributes to the “erasure” of Onkwe:hon:we’, which means “original people” in her language.
“I don’t know of any Onkwe:hon:we’ who would go to another country and claim to be indigenous from there and claim leadership in spaces that are allocated for, and reserved for, Native people,” said Oakes, a mother of two from the Snipe Clan of the Mohawk people.
“To me, that’s really settler mentality where they are chasing a dream and they think they are entitled to anything and everything in their wake,” Oakes added.
To Oakes, whose Mohawk name translates to “She gathers and organizes people,” the problem extends beyond activist spaces like the Indigenous Kinship Collective. Universities and museums, for example, are failing to engage adequately with tribal nations even as they acquire and allocate resources on initiatives and efforts directed toward American Indians and Alaska Natives, she said.
“I challenge all museums, institutions, universities and foundations to do the work, to start vetting
to make sure that you are actually giving back to Natives from this land,” said Oakes.
In recent years, Oakes has appeared as a speaker and guest lecturer at The New School in New York City, where The Vera List Center for Art and Politics (VLC) is housed. She noted that the center’s Borderlands Fellowship initiative does not include any representation from tribes in New York, including those whose territories have been separated by the modern-day colonial borders.
“It’s insulting that the Haudenosaunee that are on the border of U.S. and Canada are left entirely out of this conversation,” Oakes said of the center’s “borderlands” work, which has been expanding with the help of outside funding.
“This opportunity could be super impactful if they had worked with one of us,” said Oakes, who now serves as director of the North American Indigenous Center of New York, whose mission is centered on furthering tribal priorities, such as land stewardship.
“It’s just really insulting that they didn’t even try to connect with tribal communities in New York,” Oakes said of the VLC.
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“We would be more than glad to do so,” Kouni said in an interview conducted shortly after the January 11 announcement of Loggans.
“At the moment, that’s not necessarily something that we are foregrounding or prioritizing,” Kuoni said of consulting tribes in New York.
Kuoni also confirmed that neither she, nor the VLC, has taken any steps to determine whether Loggans has any type of connection to their claimed tribal nation, the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians. Pointing to 30 years of work with Native artists, she said she relies on “trust” and self-identification.
“In the case of Regan,” Kuoni said, “we’ve had long-standing relationships. So at that point, I am not going to say, ‘What about your background? And you know, what’s your blood quota? Or, you know, which register are your ancestors listed on?”
In the interview, Kuoni said she believed tribal governments, as sovereign nations, determine who belongs to their communities. But as a non-Native person who was born and raised overseas, she indicated she was extremely reluctant to contact any tribe as part of her vetting process.
“I don’t see any reason why I should,” Kuoni told Indianz.Com when asked specifically about Loggans.
But even if Kuoni were to contact a tribe, she offered a significant reason to discount a sovereign nation’s determinations. She compared the questions being asked about Loggans to those that faced the late Jimmie Durham, an artist who claimed connections to the historic Cherokee Nation despite lacking ties to any of the three present-day Cherokee tribal governments and communities in Oklahoma and North Carolina.
So should Loggans be seen as lacking ties to any Choctaw tribal nation, Kuoni indicated that she’s already come up with an explanation for the missing connection.
“I’m aware — and undoubtedly superficially so — but I’m aware of the incredibly complex proposition that tribal identification and indigeneity are, in some cases, determined by the structures and instruments that were handed down or are still present from settler-colonialism and are rejected by some indigenous artists like, you know, Jimmie Durham did,” Kuoni said.
“So I’m not in a position to say, ‘This is the right way to identify yourself as indigenous, this is not,’” Kuoni told Indianz.Com.
The explanation frustrated Oakes, who said there is “no excuse” for any institution — especially in an age where the ideals of diversity, equity and inclusion reach all the way to the highest levels of society — not to engage with tribal nations and tribal communities.
“Tribal councils are a phone call away to verify someone claiming to be from a particular nation,” Oakes told Indianz.Com.
“To not be directly working with tribal nations for outreach to get these opportunities to Native people and Indian Country, as well as not vetting those that claim to be from a tribal nation, is negligence,” Oakes asserted. “They need to do better.”
“We’re in an era of over-access of information, and there’s really no excuse,” Oakes concluded.
“The claims made about me appear to usurp community protocol by deferring to a white woman, who made an incorrect comparison about MY Indigeneity, thus furthering colonial gatekeeping of Indigenous identities,” Loggans said in the statement, which did not elaborate on the identity of the “white woman” at issue.
“As we all know, white people are not (or should not be) gatekeepers of Indigeneity, in the same way that enrollment is not the pinnacle of proof of Indigeneity,” Loggans noted.
In the statement, Loggans acknowledged taking the DNA test in 2013. She asserted that the results “illustrate Indigenous ancestry, though that is not what I use as my claim to community because blood quantum is racist.”
The DNA test results, which were obtained by Indianz.Com, indicate a predominant “European” genetic component in the test taker. The “Native” component, which 23AndMe grouped with “Eastern Asian” in the test results, appears to be consistent with a person having one grandparent, out of four grandparents, with Native ancestry.
In Guatemala, the vast majority of the population self-identifies as Maya or descends from the blending of European and Indigenous peoples. Loggans’ mother, who was born in Guatemala, does not outwardly identify as Maya or K’iche’ Maya.
“I am born of a Maya woman from Guatemala and a father of Choctaw descendancy,” Loggans wrote in the statement.
“A lot of people across Latin America of course have Indigenous ancestry,” Tallbear said in an interview. “But that’s not the way they would define Indigeneity, according to ancestry alone.”
“To equate the results with a tribal identity is a huge jump,” said Tallbear. She pointed out that commercial genetic companies are the ones assigning labels like “Native” to people who take the tests.
“Different ‘Native American’ markers are shared in higher and lower frequencies across the Americas by people with indigenous ancestry,” Tallbear said. “You can’t trace that to a particular people or tribe, when we’ve got thousands of peoples or tribes across the Americas.”
The unique nature of tribal nations is all the more reason to affirm their sovereign right to determine who belongs, according to Tallbear. And vetting whether a particular individual is a citizen of their claimed tribal nation isn’t the only way to respect that sovereignty.
“Enrollment is one thing, but when you have absolutely no familial or kinship connection to anybody in that community, that’s a huge red flag,” said Tallbear. A person who may not be enrolled will still have aunties, grandmothers and other family members who are part of the tribe, she noted.
Based on an extensive review of public information, including social media posts, news articles and obituaries, Loggans is the only member of the immediate family to claim to be from the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians. Neither the father nor a sibling close in age to Loggans outwardly identify as “Choctaw,” according to multiple Native women in New York City who have met both family members in the last few years.
A third long-time associate who has had extensive contacts with Ron Loggans’ child from a marriage with a different spouse than the one from Guatemala also said this particular sibling does not identify as “Choctaw.” The elder Loggans has since removed public access to one of his online profiles amid inquiries about Regan Loggans.
“It sounds pretty arbitrary to just choose ‘Mississippi Choctaw’ because your White dad is from Mississippi,” observed Tallbear, who addressed issues of tribal misappropriation during a talk at Columbia University in New York in February 2019.
“It’s total jump and it makes no sense logically,” said Tallbear.
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In response, Tallbear said she would consult Indigenous communities in those countries and see how they determine who belongs. Similar to the way in which someone could contact tribal nations in the U.S., her answer to this type of inquiry remains the same today.
“I haven’t changed my position on DNA testing,” Tallbear said three years after the appearance in New York City. “I haven’t changed my position on the kinds of sloppy claims people make and the inauthentic claims they make to Native identity. None of this has changed.”
“Just because we’re no longer talking about a famous White person doesn’t mean that my position on these types of claims has changed,” Tallbear said in reference to U.S. Sen Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts), who released the results of a DNA test prior to her failed bid for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Warren at the time claimed the results indicated the presence of an unspecified “Native” ancestor. The Cherokee Nation, to which Warren had previously claimed a connection, denounced the campaign stunt through the tribe’s secretary of state, who now serves as the tribe’s principal chief.
“People really don’t understand, at all, that tribes have governmental structures,” Tallbear said.
“You can actually call up a tribal enrollment office and find out. They need to know that these are governance issues and there are ways to check on these things.”
“And these are the questions that we ask each other,” Tallbear added, referring to the ways in which Native people, from diverse and varying communities, often engage with each other to understand connections to their respective tribal nations.
Loggans did not address why they deleted “Chahta Sia” from their Instagram profile. The online biography now simply reads “Indigenous.”
Loggans also asked Indianz.Com not to publish a story based on their background, or claims about their background. The request came immediately before they lodged guilty pleas in two of three legal cases they are facing in the state of Minnesota.
According to online court records, Loggans petitioned on February 2 to plead guilty in Cass County (11-CR-21-1418) to charges of trespass and obstruction of the legal process.
Another guilty petition was filed on February 8 in Hubbard County (29-CR-21-365) to a charge of construction site trespass. Other charges are slated to be dropped, according to court documents. [Note: Redactions in the two court documents were made by Indianz.Com]
The cases are tied to protests against the Line 3 pipeline that runs through Ojibwe treaty territory in the northern part of the state. One of the organizers of the direct actions is a prominent Native environmental activist and leader who stood next to Loggans on stage at the event in Washington, D.C., last April and later passed the microphone to Loggans during the portion of the event that took place near the White House.
According to court documents, the attorney who has been representing Loggans in the Line 3 cases is also representing other defendants who were arrested during these direct actions.
A hearing in the third case, this one in Clearwater County (15-CR-21-463), was scheduled for Monday. But the charge of obstructing legal arrest and of being a public nuisance were dismissed by the prosecuting attorney on Friday, who cited a technical reason for dropping the case.
“Loggans was not given the full 5 minutes to disburse before being placed under arrest for the charges,” the Clearwater County attorney told the court.
As for the Indigenous Kinship Collective, the group last week told its nearly 23,000 followers on Instagram that they are “currently on collective rest from social media engagement.” The February 15 post was the first since January 18.
And just as with the June-July social media respite of 2019, the group announced a change to their priorities. The post reads: “We are shifting our focus and in this process, we will no longer be accepting donations towards our mutual aid fund.”
Loggans, during a virtual presentation hosted by The Vera List Center in February 2021, had said the collective had collected significant sums of money for the group’s “mutual aid fund.” A post from October 7, 2021, put the amount at “over” $75,000.
According to the post, the group sent “almost 2k directly to out kin on the frontlines at line 3,” where Loggans had spent significant time over the last year. Court documents show their arrests occured in March, August and September of 2021.
In addition to asking Indianz.Com not to publish a story, Loggans asked for their statement to be published “unaltered.” It follows, in full:
I did take a DNA test in 2013, which does illustrate Indigenous ancestry, though that is not what I use as my claim to community because blood quantum is racist. The claims made about me appear to usurp community protocol by deferring to a white woman, who made an incorrect comparison about MY Indigeneity, thus furthering colonial gatekeeping of Indigenous identities. As we all know, white people are not (or should not be) gatekeepers of Indigeneity, in the same way that enrollment is not the pinnacle of proof of Indigeneity. My Indigeniety is not solely tied to Indigenous communities of the North, and erasing that complexity is inherently racist. We, Indigenous people of South and Central America, are too often flattened under the colonial descriptor of Latinidad. Delegitimizing my Indigeneity seeks to center North American Indigenous communities as the standard of nativeness.
We all know colonial ideologies of Indigeneity are harmful to the community, and unfortunately, Acee Agoyo of Indianz.com, appears to be conflating my experience through colonial definitions and publishing known untruths.