Are there Native Americans who don’t belong to any tribe? Sen. Elizabeth Warren argues that there is at least one, and on Wednesday the Massachusetts Democrat made her case to the National Congress of American Indians.
Recently the Boston Globe explained why Ms. Warren needs to address the issue:
There’s a ghost haunting Elizabeth Warren as she ramps up for a possible 2020 presidential bid and a reelection campaign in Massachusetts this year: her enduring and undocumented claims of Native American ancestry….
As Warren is mentioned as a serious presidential contender in 2020, even some who should be her natural allies say Warren has displayed a stubborn unwillingness to address the gap between the story she was told of Native Americans in the family tree and a dearth of hard evidence to back it up.
And of course people who are not natural allies have been rather less charitable. President
has taken to calling her “Pocahontas” and other critics have called her a “fake Indian.”
The website MassLive has published a copy of Sen. Warren’s prepared remarks for the Wednesday speech:
I get why some people think there’s hay to be made here. You won’t find my family members on any rolls, and I’m not enrolled in a tribe.
And I want to make something clear. I respect that distinction. I understand that tribal membership is determined by tribes — and only by tribes. I never used my family tree to get a break or get ahead. I never used it to advance my career.
Hmm. She seems to be acknowledging that no one in her family is a member of any tribe, and also claiming that she never used her “family tree” to get ahead. But did she get ahead by pretending to be part of someone else’s family tree? According to the Globe:
In 1984, she contributed five recipes to a Native American cookbook entitled “Pow Wow Chow: A Collection of Recipes From Families of the Five Civilized Tribes: Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Seminole.” In the book, which was edited by her cousin and unearthed during her 2012 campaign by the Boston Herald, her name is listed as “Elizabeth Warren, Cherokee.”
Warren also listed herself as a minority in a legal directory published by the Association of American Law Schools from 1986 to 1995. She’s never provided a clear answer on why she stopped self-identifying.
She was also listed as a Native American in federal forms filed by the law schools at Harvard University and University of Pennsylvania where she worked.
And in 1996, as Harvard Law School was being criticized for lacking diversity, a spokesman for the law school told the Harvard Crimson that Warren was Native American.
Warren has not formally claimed to be Native American during her time in the Senate, where the chamber’s historian lists three former senators as having American Indian heritage. Senators self-report their ethnicity to the historian’s office. Her office has declined to comment on why.
But as of this week’s address it seems she is once again claiming Native American heritage. According to the prepared remarks:
…my mother’s family was part Native American. And my daddy’s parents were bitterly opposed to their relationship. So, in 1932, when Mother was 19 and Daddy had just turned 20, they eloped.
As far as this column can tell, Sen. Warren has still not presented evidence to back up the claim that her family is part Native American, nor for the insinuation that her paternal grandparents were racists. Even if they were as hard-hearted as Ms. Warren suggests, if a Native American ancestor was so distant on her mother’s side that the senator cannot even come up with a name, how would her father’s family have even known?
Later in her Wednesday remarks, Sen. Warren creates still more confusion. Having just renewed her claim of Native American ancestry, she then appears to cast doubt on it by addressing Native Americans in the second person, instead of the first-person plural. She speaks of “your story” and “your history” and “your people.” Doesn’t she mean to say, “our people”?
While the senator mulls over her identity, it seems that few voters in the early primary state next door are identifying themselves as Warren supporters. This week the University of New Hampshire’s Granite State Poll reports that former Vice President
is the favorite for 2020 with the support of 35% of Democratic primary voters. Meanwhile 2016 primary winner Sen. Bernie Sanders is running second with 24% and Sen. Warren polls third at 15%.
So the political news is discouraging, and the policy news isn’t so hot either given the changes underway at her bureaucratic legacy, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Charles Gabriel of Capital Alpha Partners says that progressive dreams have lately been dying hard at the agency. Acting Director
is spoiling all the fun by requiring agency staff to remain within the legal boundaries of their authority. He noted this week in the bureau’s long-term plan:
…we have committed to fulfill the Bureau’s statutory responsibilities, but go no further. Indeed, this should be an ironclad promise for any federal agency; pushing the envelope in pursuit of other objectives ignores the will of the American people, as established in law by their representatives in Congress and the White House. Pushing the envelope also risks trampling upon the liberties of our citizens, or interfering with the sovereignty or autonomy of the states or Indian tribes.
Sen. Warren has opposed Mr. Mulvaney’s leadership but perhaps she should reconsider, given his respect for the authority of her people.
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