The leader of a local chapter of a major US group advocating for the rights of African Americans is facing questions about whether she lied about her racial identity, with her family saying she is white but has portrayed herself as black.

Rachel Dolezal, who heads a local branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in the northwestern United States, would not answer questions about her background in an interview with a local newspaper.

Dolezal is president of a local branch of the civil-rights organiSation, an adjunct professor in the Africana Studies Program at Eastern Washington University and chairwoman of the local police overnight board.

Authorities say an inquiry is underway into whether Dolezal violated city polices when she stated her racial identity.

Dolezal's estranged mother, Ruthanne, says the family is Czech, Swedish and German, with some Native American roots.

Ruthanne Dolezal said that she and her daughter had not been in touch for years but that Rachel Dolezal began to portray herself as African American eight or nine years ago after the family adopted four black children.

Al Jazeera's Rob Reynolds reports from San Francisco.

Source: Al Jazeera