Students detect memoir fraud

Kylie Gilstrap

On Thursday, Sept. 8, Mary Sheldon, associate English professor, was informed by two of her students that the memoir she was using in her American Ethnic Fiction class was a fraud.

Nasdijj, who claimed he was of Native American ancestry, wrote the memoir, “The Blood Runs like a River Through My Dreams.” The memoir was plagiarized from a 1993 story called “This Is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona” written by Sherman Alexie.

“[After the discovery] I would never again use Nasdijj’s memoir in the study of Native American literature,” said Sheldon. “When Americans of European ancestry commit fraud in this way, they are taking away the opportunity for real Native Americans to share their experiences with the world.”

Sheldon came across the memoir when she was searching for a novel on She thought that it seemed interesting so she ordered it and worked it into the course.

Lisa Sieger and Steve Guinn, both students in Sheldon’s class, detected the fraud. Sieger became interested in Nasdijj after reading the memoir and decided to do some research to see if he had any more works she could read. On the internet, Sieger came across an LA Weekly article called Navahoax, which uncovered Nasdijj as a fraud.

The two students e-mailed their teacher, informing her of their findings. One hour prior to the class Friday, Sept. 10, Sheldon was able to verify it was a fraud. She found an article proving the memoir was a fake, so she reproduced a copy for the class to discuss.

“I am so grateful that the students made this discovery and informed me before we had completed our studies, and the discovery led to a lively classroom debate,” said Sheldon. “The students immediately related it to the plagiarism forum that the Review hosted.”

Sheldon also had to change the exam. Instead of the exam having a question about analyzing the memoir as Native American literature, she replaced it with a question about the issue of the memoir being a fraud.

“I thought this is a really important topic because there are other examples of fraud in Native American literature where Americans of European ancestry have claimed Native American ancestry and published their work,” said Sheldon. “A prime example is at universities that have a Native American studies department. People are claiming Native American ancestry without proving it to gain positions.”