Elizabeth Warren Can’t Seem To Put The ‘Native American’ Issue Behind Her

Elizabeth Warren still hasn't figured out how to put the 'Native American' issue behind her.

When Elizabeth Warren first entered the political arena in 2012 in her ultimately successful challenge to Scott Brown for the Senate seat formerly held by Ted Kennedy, she quickly became the focus of attacks by conservatives not only in Massachusetts but also nationwide. To a large degree, these attacks were rooted in Warren’s full-throated advocacy of a “progressive” economic agenda that was significantly to the left of where the Obama Administration and most of the Democratic Party stood at the time, and which in many respects was a precursor to the surprising success that Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders enjoyed during the battle for the Democratic nomination in 2016. Prior to running for office, Warren had been involved with the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which has been the target of particular ire on the right, as well as being a Law Professor at Harvard University since at least 1995.

In addition to attacking her because of her ideas, though, conservatives made the seemingly odd but nonetheless telling choice of attacking Warren based on her ethnicity and what conservatives said was the false claim on her part that she has Native-American heritage, something she said was a matter of family folklore. The attack on Warren on this issue was really two-pronged. On the one hand, conservatives argued that Warren was lying about her claim to have any Native American heritage at all, and thus began referring to her with the term “Fauxcohontas” or, as President Trump has turned it into, “Pocahontas.” Exactly how they would know for sure it’s a lie was always unclear, but it was nonetheless repeated as gospel by many on the right as if it had been medically verified. The second prong of the attack was the claim that Warren somehow used her claim to be part Native American to benefit from Affirmative Action hiring practices at Harvard Law School, an assertion which has largely been debunked, as reports from the Washington Post’s Fact Checker, including a follow-up reportPolitifactFactCheck, and The Boston Globe have all made clear.

Despite this, and despite the advice of some pundits that Warren should just leave the issue behind, the Senator decided late last year to release the results of a DNA test that determined that she did have some genetic links that have been associated with Native Americans. Rather than settling the matter, though, the test ended up backfiring as many Native American groups criticized the idea that DNA tests can be used to establish Native American heritage. In this regard, I must concede that my initial reaction to the release of the DNA test was incorrect and that James Joyner was right when he predicted that the test would end up backfiring on Warren given the fact that the results showed that she was at most 1/32nd and possibly as little as 1/522nd Native American depending on how results are interpreted. Additionally, as noted, Native Americans have long held the position that Native American ancestry is dependent not on DNA but on one’s presence on officials tribal rolls, which show no evidence of anyone from Warren’s family has ever been a recognized member of the Cherokee or any other tribe.

Now, The Washington Post reports that Warren has issued yet another apology for her past claims of Native American heritage even as more evidence comes out that she has identified as Native American in the past:

Sen. Elizabeth Warren said Tuesday that she was sorry that she identified herself as a Native American for almost two decades, reflecting her ongoing struggle to quiet a controversy that continues to haunt her as she prepares to formally announce a presidential bid.

Her comments more fully explain the regret she expressed last week to the chief of the Cherokee Nation, the first time she’s said she was sorry for claiming American Indian heritage.

The private apology was earlier reported as focusing more narrowly on a DNA test she took to demonstrate her purported heritage, a move that prompted a ferocious backlash even from many allies. Warren will be vying to lead a party that has become far more mindful of nonwhite voters and their objections to misuse of their culture.

“I can’t go back,” Warren said in an interview with The Washington Post. “But I am sorry for furthering confusion on tribal sovereignty and tribal citizenship and harm that resulted.”

Warren has been trying for the past year to get past the lingering controversy over her past assertion that she is Native American.

In addition to the DNA test, she released employment documents over the summer to show she didn’t use ethnicity to further her career. And in a speech a year ago she addressed her decision to call herself a Native American, though she didn’t offer the apology that some wanted at the time.

But as Warren undergoes increased scrutiny as a presidential candidate, additional documents could surface to keep the issue alive.

Using an open records request during a general inquiry, for example, The Post obtained Warren’s registration card for the State Bar of Texas, providing a previously undisclosed example of Warren identifying as an “American Indian.”

Warren filled out the card by hand in neat blue ink and signed it. Dated April 1986, it is the first document to surface showing Warren making the claim in her own handwriting. Her office didn’t dispute its authenticity.

For Warren, putting this chapter behind her is key to calming the nerves of Democrats who want a nominee who can move beyond any problems in their past and present a strong challenge to President Trump.

For the Democratic electorate, roiled by Trump’s racially insensitive comments, it’s become more important for a Democratic standard-bearer to show an understanding of issues related to race and identity.

Here’s Warren’s Texas State Bar registration card, which she apparently filled out and signed herself:

As James noted in his post on the DNA test last year, none of this has any bearing on Warren’s fitness for the Presidency, but it does demonstrate her seeming inability to put what ought to be a simple matter behind her. From the beginning, rather than sticking to a claim that nearly every major Native American organization has rejected, Warren simply should have said that she the claim to a Native American heritage was something that had been handed down in her family for generations. Given the fact that she was born and raised in Oklahoma and that her family had long-established roots there this isn’t entirely surprising given the fact that the state had a long history as Native American territory before being settled by American pioneers in the late 19th Century, at which point there was no doubt significant cross-ethnic relationships between American settlers and Native Americans as well as family legends that claimed the existence of a link to Native Americans in their family history. She should have also admitted that, for at least some part of her life, she claimed that Native American heritage as part of her identity and that it was only later on that she realized that doing so was improper and offensive to Native Americans.

Instead of doing that, all she’s done is keep digging a bigger and bigger hole for herself. While this may not matter to most of the people inclined to support her, it does provide ammunition to the President and other critics. In an election where Democrats seem most concerned with electability, that could prove to be a problem for the Massachusetts Senator going forward.

FILED UNDER: Donald Trump, Politicians, US Politics,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Sleeping Dog says:

    She keeps picking at this like an itchy scab. Just leave it alone. If Ted Kennedy could get past a dead woman in his car and Bill Clinton, extramarital affair(s), Warren needs to move on.

    ReplyReply
    5
    1
  2. Gustopher says:

    I love Elizabeth Warren, and think she would make a great president. But, she really needs to learn how to control a situation if she has any hope of getting elected.

    And, this latest flare up gives her an opportunity to do better. I suspect she will get a few more opportunities.

    On the plus side, there is currently no evidence of her being in blackface.

    ReplyReply
    1
    2
  3. Michael Reynolds says:

    Yep. As I said when she did the DNA test, that was a bad move, a sign of weakness and evidence that she has issues as a campaigner. Will it finish her off? I can’t predict the actions of the Twitter mobs, but the way to handle this, the only way that was going to work, was for her to come out at the very start of this Pocahontas thing and say, “You know, I realized I took at face value family tales, but I think that was probably naive of me, but I was proud and excited to think I was part of a great tradition. Sadly, families stories are not always entirely accurate. So I’m afraid I have not actually earned Mr. Trump’s racist slur, though if he’d like to go on with it my response will be to do all I can to help the terribly underserved First Nations.”

    ReplyReply
    7
    2
  4. Tony W says:

    Elizabeth Warren Can’t Seem To Put The ‘Native American’ Issue Behind Her

    Lemme re-write that headline for you:

    Elizabeth Warren Can’t Seem To Put The Native American “Issue” Behind Her

    This is a nothingburger. Zero. Zilch. As worthless an argument against a person as any of Trump’s stupid nicknames and putdowns.

    In short, this “issue” will not change anybody’s mind.

    ReplyReply
  5. Stormy Dragon says:

    How hard is it to just say “when I was growing up, my mom kept telling we had native american ancestors and I believed her, but it looks like that family legend was mythology rather than history”?

    ReplyReply
    3
    1
  6. James Pearce says:

    I can’t predict the actions of the Twitter mobs, but the way to handle this, the only way that was going to work, was for her to come out at the very start of this Pocahontas thing and say,

    A) The behavior of Twitter mobs is eminently predictable.

    B) The only way for Elizabeth Warren (and the rest of the Democratic left) to put this behind her is to acknowledge –forcibly and finally– that what we have come to think of as “identity” is not that interesting and rather unimportant.

    ReplyReply
    3
    6
  7. just nutha says:

    @Stormy Dragon: I don’t know, but apparently it is–although she has used something similar as evidence but can’t bring herself to go the other way for some reason.

    Warren had been involved with the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which has been the target of particular ire on the right,

    When and why did not wanting people to be ripped off by banks, brokerages, and credit card companies become owned by the progressive movement exclusively? Do conservatives have no friends, family, relatives among the middle and lower classes?

    ReplyReply
    4
    1
  8. Moosebreath says:

    @just nutha:

    “When and why did not wanting people to be ripped off by banks, brokerages, and credit card companies become owned by the progressive movement exclusively?”

    When Republican economic policy was shortened to committing class warfare on behalf of the upper class. In other words, circa 1980.

    ReplyReply
    6
    1
  9. Raoul says:

    This “issue” has to be the biggest nothingburger that I have heard in my life.

    ReplyReply
  10. Kylopod says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    was for her to come out at the very start of this Pocahontas thing and say, “You know, I realized I took at face value family tales, but I think that was probably naive of me, but I was proud and excited to think I was part of a great tradition. Sadly, families stories are not always entirely accurate. So I’m afraid I have not actually earned Mr. Trump’s racist slur, though if he’d like to go on with it my response will be to do all I can to help the terribly underserved First Nations.”

    You know what this reminds me of? One of those sitcoms or rom-coms where there’s some stupid misunderstanding that swells into a massive plot conflict simply because none of the characters ever think to speak in plain English to clear up the mess. I’m always yelling at the screen whenever I see that sort of thing, because I’ve always thought it was too contrived to be believable–a sign the writers were dumbing down the characters just to keep an artificial plot point alive.

    That’s how Warren has been handling this pseudo-controversy from the start. It’s how Northam has handled the blackface controversy. What he did is orders worse than Warren, but I could hardly imagine someone bumbling the aftermath more ineptly.

    Now contrast it with the eloquent, thoughtful manner in which Obama handled the Rev. Wright controversy. He managed to diffuse it while expressing nuanced and complex ideas, before an electorate we usually think is only receptive to rhetoric that can fit on a bumper sticker. And please don’t anybody talk about how he was a “once in a generation talent.” It shouldn’t be this difficult.

    ReplyReply
    9
    1
  11. Lynn says:

    @Stormy Dragon: ““when I was growing up, my mom kept telling we had native american ancestors . . .”

    I believe that she’s said pretty much that, several times.

    ReplyReply
    2
    1
  12. Richard Gardner says:

    Maybe she should have appeared on PBS “Finding Your Roots.” Next week’s episode will have Paul Ryan, Tulsi Gabbard and Marco Rubio (really, see Episode 6).
    However records of the late 1800s/early 1900s are somewhat incomplete from Oklahoma (Indian Territory).

    ReplyReply
  13. Tyrell says:

    Nobody cares. She seems to be the only one that is into this.
    It has sort of got me kind of interested into maybe doing the “Ancestry” search.

    ReplyReply
    1
    2
  14. charon says:

    @Tony W:

    This is a nothingburger. Zero. Zilch. As worthless an argument against a person as any of Trump’s stupid nicknames and putdowns.

    In short, this “issue” will not change anybody’s mind.

    Hillary Clinton’s email practices were superior to Colin Powell or Condeleeza Rice. Actually, she took Colin Powell’s advice, in the service of being able to work effectively. The Clinton Foundation was a total nothingburger. Uranium One was nothing.

    You are underestimating the ability of the GOP, New York Times etc. to morph nothingburgers into damaging distractions. The GOP will push a lot of lies and misrepresentations about this now that they have a hook to latch on to.

    ReplyReply
    6
    1
  15. The abyss that is the soul of cracker says:

    @Raoul: Well I would agree with you except that she seems to have kept doubling down on it. Why is beyond me, but a lot of “why”s are beyond me.

    ReplyReply
  16. Eric Florack says:

    Have you guys seen a Howie Carr’s comment today?

    https://www.bostonherald.com/2019/02/05/elizabeth-warren-in-big-trouble-now/

    ReplyReply
  17. An Interested Party says:

    Oh my, along the same lines of this post, what is this

    ReplyReply
  18. charon says:

    @Eric Florack:

    So Howie Carr and the Boston Herald are part of Foxlandia I gather. A bit over-the-top.

    ReplyReply
  19. charon says:

    @An Interested Party:

    Similar piece is at the Daily Beast. One day story would be my guess.

    ReplyReply
  20. Bruce Henry says:

    Behold the racist bile guys like Florack simmer themselves in all day every day. I assume this Howie Carr dude is a Talk Radio host? I mean in addition to “writing” columns for Murdoch-owned tabloids?

    ReplyReply
    1
    1
  21. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Kylopod:
    I think of them as Vaseline plots. If the characters would buy a jar of Vaseline and apply liberally, they could pull their heads out of their asses and stop boring me with their tedious idiot plot.

    ReplyReply
    1
    1
  22. Michael Reynolds says:

    It’s not a question of whether this issue will change votes in some future general election. No, it won’t. But will clumsy gamesmanship be a problem when a candidate is one of about 25 people running for the nomination? Yes, it will. I’m a Democrat voter and donor and I see this and the fact that she’s running on a probably unconstitutional wealth tax, and think, “Next!”

    ReplyReply
    1
    1
  23. Bruce Henry says:

    Why would her wealth tax be unconstitutional?

    ReplyReply
  24. Andre Kenji de Sousa says:

    @James Pearce:

    The only way for Elizabeth Warren (and the rest of the Democratic left) to put this behind her is to acknowledge –forcibly and finally– that what we have come to think of as “identity” is not that interesting and rather unimportant.

    Nope. The problem for Elizabeth Warren is that identity, if you are a P.o.C is important. If you are Black Male it does not matter how you identify yourself, the cops are going to see you as a Black Male.

    There is the issue of discrimination against Native Americans, specially in the Mountain West. Elizabeth Warren, that claimed to be Native American, would never be harassed by cops for being Native American, even if she sat the whole day in some city in rural Idaho or Montana.

    That’s the issue when White people try to claim some identity as p.o.c. And Blacks, Asians and Hispanics that vote in the Democratic Primaries are surely going to note that.

    ReplyReply
    3
    1
  25. DrDaveT says:

    To a large degree, these attacks were rooted in Warren’s full-throated advocacy of a “progressive” economic agenda

    Which of your “journalistic” “principles” requires these scare quotes around the word progressive in that sentence, Doug? Are you skeptical that her economic agenda is actually progressive? On what basis?

    ReplyReply
  26. Michael Reynolds says:
  27. SC_Birdflyte says:

    @Stormy Dragon: Keep in mind that Elizabeth Warren is from Oklahoma, where the proportion of the population that can legitimately claim Native American ancestry is well above the rest of the U.S. Until my sister and I had our DNA analyzed, we believed that we were part Muscogee, based on the appearance of my great-grandmother.

    ReplyReply
  28. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Bruce Henry:

    Why would her wealth tax be unconstitutional?

    The constitution requires direct federal taxes be apportioned according to population (Article 1, section 2, clause 3 and Article 1, section 9, clause 4). The income tax required an amendment (the 16th) to bypass this. Any wealth tax would presumably require a similar amendment.

    ReplyReply
  29. Stormy Dragon says:

    @SC_Birdflyte:

    Having Native American ancestry doesn’t make you a Native American anymore than my German ancestry makes me a German.

    ReplyReply
  30. al Ameda says:

    I have to say that this is not surprising at at – in business this would be a FIFO situation, first in, first out situation.

    She’s saving everyone a lot of time and money. This ‘Pocahontas’ issue has – even in the context of a dumpster fire bottom feeder like Trump -made her un-electable. She’s on her way to being Hillary-ized. I hope to not see her in the convention finals.

    I want younger candidates, hate to say it but, this is good news.

    ReplyReply
  31. James Pearce says:

    @Andre Kenji de Sousa:

    Elizabeth Warren, that claimed to be Native American, would never be harassed by cops for being Native American, even if she sat the whole day in some city in rural Idaho or Montana.

    Native Americans are the gold medal winners of “disproportionate police violence.” They’re also one of the poorest demographics in this country. To be a Native American woman in 2019 means you might go missing and no one will come look for you.

    I come from one of those white families that claims some Native American heritage because our ancestors (ethnic Germans known as the Volga Deutsch) settled in “Indian Territory.” Granny knew some Indian words, sure, but she was a blue-eyed light-haired white lady who’d have to go back to the Viking era to discover what tribe she belonged to.

    Elizabeth Warren always struck me as being in a similar boat.

    (Also, with all due respect, but I suspect a lot of POC chafe at the “identity” society has bestowed on them.)

    ReplyReply
  32. Andre Kenji de Sousa says:

    @James Pearce:

    (Also, with all due respect, but I suspect a lot of POC chafe at the “identity” society has bestowed on them.).

    My two maternal grandparents were born in Japan, so, I look like an Asian. If people don’t know my name they will ask for “Japanese” guy. A lot of anecdotes that I usually read from Asians, like people asking incredibly dumb stuff about where you were born or whether if you speak the native language of your country happened to me.

    I don’t like the identity around Japan because Japan is far away country that I’ve never visited, and in some sense Brazil has been incredibly good to me. I don’t like Japanese cuisine, for instance. But people will inevitably will throw that identity to me.

    I remember seeing Soledad O’Brien(I sincerely thought that she was White when I first saw her on TV) saying that she went to teenager, saying that she should identify herself as Black or something and thinking that was stupid.

    That’s why seeing a White Woman(Not simply a light-skinned woman of color) pretending to be a minority is surely to be offensive, and that’s a huge problem for Elizabeth Warren. She was trying to have the good part of being Native American without having to deal with the whole package.

    But, for some people, this type of identity will surely matter. Not because of how they identify themselves, but because of how other people identify them.

    ReplyReply
  33. Guarneri says:

    @Tyrell:

    You should try it. I did. Turns out my ancestors were pirates. So I made up a story about how I really was a descendant of the King of England. At least 1/47379256. I think that’s good enough.

    ReplyReply

Speak Your Mind

*