Jamake Highwater

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Jamake Highwater
Native name Jay Marks
Born Gregory J. Markopoulos
c. 1942
Died June 1, 2001(2001-06-01) (aged 59)[1]
Los Angeles, California
Cause of death Heart attack
Nationality United States
Ethnicity Armenian[2]
Occupation Writer
Awards Newbery Honor

Jamake Highwater, also known as Jay Marks and Gregory J. Markopoulos (ca. 1942–June 3, 2001) was an American writer and journalist. He was the author of over 30 fiction and non-fiction books of music, art, poetry and history, including the children's novel Anpao: An American Indian Odyssey (1973), which received a Newbery Honor, and The Primal Mind: Vision and Reality in Indian America (1981) which was also made into a documentary. Highwater assumed a false American Indian identity in the 1960s, which had been exposed by the mid 1980s, although confusion about his life remains widespread.


Highwater was the author of over 30 fiction and non-fiction books of music, art, poetry and history, including Anpao: An American Indian Odyssey (1973), The Sun, He Dies: A Novel About the End of the Aztec World (1980), and The Primal Mind: Vision and Reality in Indian America (1981). He also wrote for the New Grove Dictionary of American Music and the Los Angeles Free Press.[3]

Highwater made several documentaries for PBS television.[1]

Highwater was a runner-up for the 1978 Newbery Medal for Anpao.[3]

In 1993 Highwater was a consultant on the TV series Star Trek: Voyager for the character Chakotay, who was broadly defined within the show as being Native American.

False ancestry claims[edit]

Highwater was born either Jay Marks or Gregory J. Markopoulos,[4] an Armenian adopted by a Greek family. He was going by the name J. Marks at the time he was writing professionally in the early 1960s. In 1969 he started going by Jamake Highwater,[4] and began claiming he was of American Indian ancestry, but gave conflicting accounts of the details.[2]

Highwater's false claims to American Indian ancestry were documented in a 1984 Akwesasne Notes article by Hank Adams. Between 1982 and 1983 Highwater and his Primal Mind Foundation received over $825,000 dollars in federal grant money from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB). His claims of Native ancestry were heavily disputed by actual American Indian activists, who argued his works were inauthentic and stereotypical and that the grant money was received illegally through a misrepresentation of material fact.[5] Following an expose by Jack Anderson in the Washington Post, Highwater stopped claiming Indian heritage in promotional literature, although confusion about his heritage remained widespread.[2]

Personal life[edit]

Highwater claimed not to know the year or place of his birth, but a Los Angeles Times obituary gave February 14, 1942 in Montana as one possibility.[1] Other sources say he may have been born as early as the 1920s.[4]

Highwater graduated from Hollywood High School, and attended college in Los Angeles. He lived in San Francisco for several years before moving to New York City around the same time he began calling himself Jamake Highwater.[4]

He died of a heart attack at home in Los Angeles on June 3, 2001.[1][3]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Myrna, Oliver (June 9, 2001). "Jamake Highwater; Wrote About Native American Culture, History". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved November 2, 2014. 
  2. ^ a b c Shanley, Kathryn (December 1, 2001). "The Indians America Loves". In Bataille, Gretchen M. Native American Representations. University of Nebraska Press. pp. 32–33. Retrieved 2 November 2014. 
  3. ^ a b c "Jamake Highwater, American Indian Author", The New York Times, June 16, 2001.
  4. ^ a b c d Chavers, Dean (2009). Racism in Indian Country. Peter Lang. p. 42. ISBN 9781433103933. Retrieved November 3, 2014. 
  5. ^ Anderson, Jack (February 16, 1984). "A Fabricated Indian?". Washington Post. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Kratzert, M. "Native American Literature: Expanding the Canon," Collection Building, Vol. 17, 1, 1998, p. 4.

External links[edit]