NCAI criticizes both sides in hot Senate race in Massachusetts

The National Congress of American Indians is criticizing the campaigns of both Democrat Elizabeth Warren and Republican Scott Brown, saying the heated race for for U.S. Senate in Massachusetts has become "extremely disturbing."

In a statement, NCAI executive director Jackie Pata said Sen. Brown should take "corrective action" against two of his Capitol Hill staffers who were seen on video making stereotypical "war whoops" and doing "tomahawk chops" in a confrontation with Warren supporters. She also criticized Brown for "inflammatory" remarks in which he suggested a person's Indian identity was tied to skin color.

But Pata said Warren, who has claimed Cherokee and Delaware ancestry, "bears responsibility" for the way the campaign has unfolded. She has declined to provide documentation of her Indian roots since the Brown campaign brought it up in April.

Pata's full statement follows:
“In the last week, the Massachusetts Senate race reached an extremely disturbing place. The National Congress of American Indians is calling for the candidates to return civility to the public discourse and to immediately stop the politicization of Native identity. On Tuesday, video footage was released showing Senator Brown’s staff leading crowds in ‘war whooping’ and ‘tomahawk chopping’ during a clash with Warren supporters. Additionally, last Thursday Senator Brown made inflammatory remarks about Warren’s skin color as an indicator that she is not of Native descent.

The video footage of Senator Brown’s staff engaged in ‘war whooping’ and ‘tomahawk chopping’ is not only offensive and demeaning to Native Americans it is also demoralizing to citizens across the country. It’s concerning that experienced staff members of a United States Senator would act this way; Senator Brown should take corrective action immediately. These actions belittle the democratic process and are emblematic of an irresponsible public discourse on race and Native identity by misinformed individuals and the media.

Elizabeth Warren also bears responsibility for allowing the public discourse about Native identity to become misrepresented. She has every right to be proud of her family, however her campaign failed to educate a non-Native media and the public unfamiliar with federal tribal enrollment rules or about historic federal policies that make proving Native ancestry very difficult for some people. Finally, Warren’s campaign did not respond to requests for interviews from Native media organizations. All of these actions could have gone a long way to reducing tension and increasing awareness.

The video released of Brown’s staffers comes just days after Senator Brown responded to a question during the opening of a September 20, 2012 televised debate between the two candidates in which he referred to Warren’s white skin color as proof that she is not of Native American descent in response to an opening question about character, “I think character is important…what you are referring to is the fact that Professor Warren claimed she is a Native American, a person of color, and as you can see, she is not.”

Skin color or physical appearance has no bearing on one’s Native American heritage or status as an enrolled member of a federally recognized tribe. As a result, numerous national television programs and websites have irresponsibly echoed Senator Brown’s statements by referring to someone’s skin color as an indicator for Native American identity. These claims are false and Senator Brown should correct the record and retract his statement immediately.

NCAI is concerned by the negative and racially charged statements and actions that are the result of the politicization of the issue of Native ancestry. This issue has no bearing on the qualifications to be the Senator of Massachusetts.

Native American peoples have long endured discrimination and we will not tolerate, nor should the American people tolerate, a return to hostile environments or ignorant discourse about America’s first peoples. Nor should we tolerate a hostile environment about a common characteristic many people share, a connection to Native American ancestry.

Today, Native people are proud of our ancestors, our place in the American family of governments, and we will not stand for irresponsible behavior or public discourse.”

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