The controversy over the past claims of Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren being a native American continued this week with a report in the Washington Post. The Post reported that Warren claimed to be an “American Indian” on her Texas bar registration. Warren has denied claiming the status in her legal career despite being listed or referenced as a minority at a couple of law schools. This is a notable incident because it is a claim written in her own handwriting and was entirely unnecessary for registration in Texas.
Warren recently released a DNA test that showed a small possible fraction of Native American heritage. Stanford University Professor Carlos D. Bustamante is a respected academic in the field who has consulted on the national testing programs.
According to his report, Warren has a Native American ancestor from six to ten generations back. If Warren’s great-great-great-grandmother were Native American, she would be 1/32 Native American but it could date back further to 10 generations — making her only 1/1,024 Native American. Even a 1/32 heritage may not translate into what most people would view as being Native American, However Cherokee Nation principal chief Bill John Baker is 1/32 Cherokee by blood. Warren claims Cherokee and Delaware heritage.
Warren touched off a firestorm with the release. Many noted that she degree of claimed DNA would make a huge number of people Native American. Moreover, tribal leaders were irate about using DNA as all. Cherokee Chuck Hoskin Jr., the tribe’s secretary of state, insisted “Using a DNA test to lay claim to any connection to the Cherokee Nation or any tribal nation, even vaguely, is inappropriate and wrong. Senator Warren is undermining tribal interests with her continued claims of tribal heritage.”
Much of this controversy has been baffling. There is no question that Warren was a successful and worthy academic in her own right. However, she has left something of a morass of different representations and rationalizations. I am still unclear why using DNA is such an offense but Warren apologized repeatedly for her test. I am also unclear on what the standard is for claiming Native American heritage if it is not based on blood line. Finally, I do not understand what level Warren is expected to meet to satisfy sufficient ancestry.
The card is damaging for Warren not in the sense that it gave her a professional advantage with the Bar but it shows that she claimed to be a minority without prompting or necessity.