David Treuer: Elizabeth Warren rightly claims Native heritage

"Suddenly many Americans wonder what it means that Elizabeth Warren, who is vying for Massachusetts Republican Scott Brown’s U.S. Senate seat, has identified herself as having Cherokee and Delaware Indian heritage. The claim wasn’t sudden, but the furor is.

Some 20 years ago, she listed herself as a minority in a directory of law professors. Recently the authenticity of her heritage, and her reasons for claiming it, have been called into question on the campaign trail. However, the debate should not be about whether she deserves this minority status, but whether we live in a meritocracy.

From the mid-19th century, the beginning of the reservation period, up through the early 20th century, regardless of how people identified themselves, being classified by the U.S. government as an American Indian automatically curtailed one’s rights. These included the right to travel, practice religion, and pursue liberty and happiness — by happiness I mean living in step with Indian cultures. This official and de facto persecution persisted through the 1940s, to the extent that my grandfather, who couldn’t have been mistaken for anything other than Indian, put down “white” on his enlistment forms when he volunteered for the Army in 1943. Being white, on paper at least, meant he would have more opportunities."

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David Treuer: Elizabeth Warren says she’s Native American. So she is. (The Washington Post 5/5)

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