By JOSEPH MARTIN
ONE FEATHER STAFF
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has claimed Cherokee heritage, and it’s been a source of controversy among tribes and her Republican critics. While she isn’t a member of the Cherokee Nation, United Keetoowah Band or Eastern Band, she has maintained that she had the heritage. While the results of her DNA test released Oct. 14 do show possible Native American markers, such tests will not show a specific tribe, and many natives have argued that they don’t give credence to being identified as native. Eastern Band and Cherokee Nation officials have weighed in on the issue.
Cherokee Nation Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr. dismissed the results. “A DNA test is useless to determine tribal citizenship. Current DNA tests do not even distinguish whether a person’s ancestors were indigenous to North or South America,” he said. “Sovereign tribal nations set their own legal requirements for citizenship, and while DNA tests can be used to determine lineage, such as paternity to an individual, it is not evidence for tribal affiliation. Using a DNA test to lay claim to any connection to the Cherokee Nation or any tribal nation, even vaguely, is inappropriate and wrong. It makes a mockery out of DNA tests and its legitimate uses while also dishonoring legitimate tribal governments and their citizens, whose ancestors are well documented and whose heritage is proven. Sen. Warren is undermining tribal interests with her continued claims of tribal heritage.”
Principal Chief Richard Sneed echoed the statement for the sovereign authority that tribes have to set citizenship, but he stopped short of criticizing Warren and defended her as an ally to tribes. “Sen. Warren has not tried to appropriate Cherokee or Delaware culture. She has not used her family story or evidence of native ancestry to gain employment or other advantage. She has not tried to claim a treaty or trust obligation, nor seek the protection of the Indian Child Welfare Act. On the contrary, she demonstrates respect for tribal sovereignty by acknowledging that tribes determine citizenship and respecting the difference between citizenship and ancestry.”
Sneed also noted her support for a number of tribal issues. “Sen. Warren also has sponsored legislation to help prevent suicides in Indian country, identify missing and murdered native women and help tribes reacquire lands that were taken as a result of harmful federal policies.”
Warren, according to Sneed, has also supported the tribe. “Sen. Warren also has worked with the Eastern Band to help us reacquire important Cherokee historical sites in Tennessee. Sen. Warren has demonstrated her respect for tribal sovereignty and is an ally of the Eastern Band. As such, we support her and other allies, regardless of party, who promote tribal sovereignty, tribal self-determination, and protection of Cherokee women.”
But a number of tribal members questioned Warren’s claims in a political ad run by the Massachusetts Republican Party in 2012, the year she defeated her predecessor Scott Brown (R-Mass.). John Grant was among them. However, Grant claims the person who interviewed them was misleading about the purpose.
The ad shows Grant saying, “It’s not right at all. She’s lying to the American public. If she’s claiming that she’s Native American, prove it.” Grant today angrily discounts the ad. “That was totally bogus.”
Grant said the person who interviewed him and others at the open market downtown claimed to be working on a thesis but instead was sent by Republicans to smear Warren. “He misrepresented every one of us there. They used us. That whole thing is fake. I have no ill will towards her.”
But for all the criticism of Warren’s claims of being Cherokee, harsher criticism has been directed toward President Donald Trump’s disparaging reference of “Pocahontas” for Warren, which he has used during campaign rallies, and even at an event to honor the surviving World War II Navajo Code Talkers. This is on top of his displaying a portrait of Andrew Jackson in the Oval Office and remarks he made in a 1993 congressional subcommittee that proclaimed that some natives “don’t look like Indians.” Trump dismissed Warren’s announcement of her results on Twitter. “Pocahontas (the bad version), sometimes referred to as Elizabeth Warren, is getting slammed. She took a bogus DNA test, and it showed that she may be 1/1024, far less than the average American. Now Cherokee Nation denies her, ‘DNA test is useless.’ Even they don’t want her. Phony!”
Former tribal leaders have also weighed in on the controversy in 2012. “We need to elevate the conversation above issues of race,” then Tribal Council Chairperson Terri Henry told WLOS.
“It depends on the aspect of why they’re claiming Cherokee, but you always respect it first,” then Principal Chief Michell Hicks told them.