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 who claimed to be Cherokee. He was the author of over 30 fiction and non-fiction books of music, art, poetry and history. His children's novel Anpao: An American Indian Odyssey (1973) received a Newbery Honor. His book The Primal Mind: Vision and Reality in Indian America (1981) was the basis of a film documentary.

Highwater assumed a false American Indian identity as Cherokee in the 1960s. It had been exposed by the mid 1980s, although confusion about his life remains widespread.[3]

Early life, education and career[edit]

He was born as either Jay Marks or Gregory J. Markopoulos.[4] He was Armenian and adopted by a Greek family. He graduated from Hollywood High School, and attended college in Los Angeles.

While living in San Francisco for several years, he started publishing professionally as J. Marks. He moved to New York City around 1969, when he started using the name Jamake Highwater and claiming to be Cherokee and Native American.[4] At various times he said his father was Eastern Cherokee and his mother Blackfoot and French.[5] Critic Gerald Robert Vizenor describes such individuals as "varionatives."[5]

As Highwater, he claimed not to know the year or place of his birth. 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 was the author of more than 30 fiction and non-fiction books of music, art, poetry and history. With the byline Jamake Highwater, his work included Anpao: An American Indian Odyssey (1973), a children's book; and The Sun, He Dies: A Novel About the End of the Aztec World (1980).[6]

In 1981 he published a non-fiction book, The Primal Mind: Vision and Reality in Indian America.[6] He established the Primal Mind Foundation to support studies of Native American spirituality.

He also wrote for the New Grove Dictionary of American Music and the Los Angeles Free Press. He was accepted as a Cherokee Native American writer.[3][6]

Highwater made several documentaries for PBS television.[1] In 1993 Highwater was a consultant on the TV series Star Trek: Voyager for the character Chakotay. He was broadly defined within the show as being Native American.

False ancestry claims[edit]

By the early 1960s, Markopoulos was using the anglicized name J. Marks when writing professionally. In 1969 he had moved to New York City and started using the name of Jamake Highwater,[4] claiming he was of American Indian ancestry, particularly Cherokee. He sometimes gave conflicting accounts of his background.[2]

Highwater's false claims to American Indian ancestry were documented by Hank Adams in a 1984 Akwesasne Notes article. Between 1982 and 1983 Highwater and his Primal Mind Foundation had received more than $825,000 dollars in federal grant money from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB). His claims of Native ancestry were strongly disputed by American Indian activists, who argued that his works were inauthentic and stereotypical. They said that he had illegally received the grant money by misrepresenting material facts about his life.[7] Investigative journalist Jack Anderson (columnist) followed up, revealing Highwater's pose.[7]

Following an expose by Anderson in the Washington Post, Highwater stopped claiming Indian heritage in promotional literature. When questioned by Anderson about why he had assumed an Indian identity, he said that he had thought he could not break into the writing world otherwise.[5] Confusion about his identity and ancestry remained widespread.[2]

Highwater lived in Los Angeles in his later life, dying of a heart attack at home on June 3, 2001.[1][6]

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 Russell, Steve (July 1, 2015). "Rachel Dolezal Outs Andrea Smith Again; Will Anybody Listen This Time?". Indian Country Today Media Network. Retrieved 5 July 2015. 
  4. ^ a b c d Chavers, Dean (2009). Racism in Indian Country. Peter Lang. p. 42. ISBN 9781433103933. Retrieved November 3, 2014. 
  5. ^ a b c Gerald Robert Vizenor, Fugitive Poses: Native American Indian Scenes of Absence and Presence, Univ. of Nebraska Press, 2000, pp. 67-69
  6. ^ a b c d "Jamake Highwater, American Indian Author", The New York Times, June 16, 2001.
  7. ^ a b 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]