Is Elizabeth Warren Just Another White American Co-Opting The Native American Identity When It Suits Her?

Is Elizabeth Warren Just Another White American Co-Opting The Native American Identity When It Suits Her?

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Does she or doesn’t she? Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren has long claimed to have Native American ancestry, much to the chagrin of Donald Trump who has tried to insult her at times by calling her Pocahontas. So, now armed with a DNA test, Warren says yes, here’s the evidence of my Native American blood.

Genealogists, however, are saying hold up. It seems proving someone has Native American ancestry is very difficult and that Warren’s test doesn’t really show she is — or isn’t — of Native American heritage.

Why is it so difficult? Because the Native American gene databases are too thin to make definitive declarations about ancestry.

And it seems some Native Americans are fed up with people — white and Black — claiming to be Native when it suits them.

“As genealogy databases have grown in recent years, Native American tribes have been inundated by DNA test result-toting Caucasians seeking tribal certification for everything from eligibility for school scholarships to sought-after tax relief, genomics experts and geneticists said,” ABC News reported.

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Warren has long claimed Native American heritage; she actually changed her ethnicity from white to Native American while “at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, where she taught from 1987 to 1995, and at Harvard Law School, where she was a tenured faculty member beginning in 1995, according to a 2012 Boston Globe investigation — defended herself on the campaign trail that year,” ABC News reported.

“Warren was described as Harvard Law’s ‘first woman of color’ in a 1997 Fordham Law Review article. She even published multiple recipes to a cookbook, Pow Wow Chow: A Collection of Recipes from Families of the Five Civilized Tribes — all signed, ‘Elizabeth Warren, Cherokee,’” the Hill reported.

Elizabeth Warren
U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., during a town hall style gathering in Woburn, Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2018. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)


“Being Native American is part of who our family is, and I’m glad to tell anyone about that,” she said at the time, describing her understanding of her heritage as having come from stories her mother told her as a child. “I am just very proud of it.”

Warren even spoke of her mother telling her that she was part-Cherokee and part-Delaware in a campaign ad when she first ran for the Senate.

Warren recently decided to put all her naysayers to rest by releasing her DNA test results to prove her Native American connection. But instead of silencing distractors, the results made people have even more questions.

According to the test, overseen and analyzed by Stanford University geneticist Carlos Bustamante, there was “high confidence” that Warren is likely somewhere between 1/64th and 1/1024th Native American. But this is about

Native American anthropologist Dr. Kim Tallbear, author of “Native American DNA: Origins, Ethics, and Governance,” isn’t impressed with Warren’s DNA test results. “Elizabeth Warren and genome scientists … get to have it both ways,” Tallbear said in a statement. “They know very well that the broader U.S. public will understand a DNA test to be a true indication of Elizabeth Warren’s right to claim Native American identity in some way.”

She continued: “The broader U.S. public knows nothing about tribal citizenship and histories of settler-colonial meddling in our laws. The broader U.S. public is also invested…in making what are ultimately settler-colonial claims to all things Indigenous: our bones, blood, land, waters, and ultimately our identities.”

Cherokee Nation Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin, Jr. also released a statement speaking out against Warren’s claims.

“Using a DNA test to lay claim to any connection to the Cherokee Nation or any tribal nation, even vaguely, is inappropriate and wrong,” Hoskin Jr. said.

“It makes a mockery out of DNA tests and [their] legitimate uses, while also dishonoring legitimate tribal governments and their citizens, whose ancestors are well-documented and whose heritage is proven. Senator Warren is undermining tribal interests with her continued claims of tribal heritage.”

In fact, since 2012 the Cherokee Nation has been asking Warren to stop affiliating herself with the tribe.

Other Native American leaders, however, have been open to Warren. Eastern Band of Cherokee Principal Chief Richard Sneed said in a statement sent to ABC News, Warren “demonstrates respect for tribal sovereignty by acknowledging that tribes determine citizenship and respecting the difference between citizenship and ancestry.”

Sneed added that Warren worked to help Native Americans through her role in the Senate by sponsoring legislation to help prevent suicides in Native American populations, to find missing and murdered Native American women, as well as helping tribes reacquire land they once occupied.