Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) addresses the winter session of the National Congress of American Indians in Washington, D.C., on February 14, 2018. Photo by Indianz.Com (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

Cherokee Nation upset after Sen. Warren releases results of DNA test

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) made waves earlier this year when she made a surprise appearance before tribal leaders and declared herself to be "part" Native American.

At the time, attendees of the National Congress of American Indians meeting in Washington, D.C., gave Warren a standing ovation. One tribal leader from her home state of Massachusetts promoted the popular Democrat as a strong supporter of sovereignty.

But as Warren lays the groundwork for a possible presidential run, one tribe isn't happy with her latest political splash. The Cherokee Nation criticized the lawmaker for releasing the results of a DNA test and for promoting them as proof of her Native ancestry.

"Using a DNA test to lay claim to any connection to the Cherokee Nation or any tribal nation, even vaguely, is inappropriate and wrong," Chuck Hoskin Jr., the tribe's secretary of state, said in a statement on Monday. "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."

"Senator Warren is undermining tribal interests with her continued claims of tribal heritage," Hoskin added.

Other prominent tribal citizens -- almost all of them women -- were just as incensed. Activist Rebecca Nagle said the DNA test did not prove Warren's Native ancestry, especially since experienced Cherokee scholars already examined her family tree and failed to find any Indian ancestors.

"This is a clear move to silence Native voices who have legitimate concerns about the damage her false claims do to public understanding of our identity," Nagle wrote in a post on Twitter.

And Stacy Leeds, a former justice of the Cherokee Nation Supreme Court, chimed in with a familiar observation.

"Still tone deaf," she wrote in a post on Twitter, echoing the same concerns she raised after Warren appeared at NCAI in February.

But at least one Native woman welcomed the announcement. Deb Haaland, a Democrat who is running for a seat in Congress, said the DNA test "confirms" Warren's Native heritage claims, which have been part of family lore for generations.

"Senator Warren has been a sister in the struggle for years for Indigenous peoples' rights, and for all of us who weren't born into the top 1%," Haaland, who hails from the Pueblo of Laguna, wrote in a post on Twitter. "The revelation of Senator Warren’s Native American ancestry is significant for her personally, and I join her in celebrating her ancestry."

Despite the DNA revelation, which came just weeks before the November 6 election, Warren said in a follow-up post on Twitter that she will not list herself as a "Native" in her U.S. Senate biography. During her speech at NCAI, she had acknowledged that no one on her family appears on any tribal rolls or other documents that are used to determine eligibility for tribal citizenship.

"DNA & family history has nothing to do with tribal affiliation or citizenship, which is determined only – only – by Tribal Nations," she wrote.

But her campaign appeared intent on proving that Warren indeed has a documented Native ancestor. In an October 10 report, Carlos D. Bustamante, a geneticist at Stanford University, said the DNA results "strongly support the existence of an unadmixed Native American ancestor in the individual’s pedigree, likely in the range of 6-10 generations ago."

In layman's terms, "unadmixed" means someone whose DNA results would show they belong to one specific racial or ethnic group. That would put Warren's purported Native American ancestor being alive as far back in the early 1800s, or prior to the forced removal of the Cherokee people from their homelands in the southeastern U.S. on what is known as the Trail of Tears.

The efforts to promote the results of the DNA test as legitimate, while at the same time declining to assert a specific heritage, struck one expert as self-serving. In a statement, professor Kim Tallbear, a citizen of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate, agreed with the Cherokee Nation's assessment -- Warren is undermining tribal sovereignty, albeit in an "unintended" way.

"She continues to defend her ancestry claims as important despite her historical record of refusing to meet with Cherokee Nation community members who challenge her claims," Tallbear said in a statement she issued after receiving numerous media inquiries for her views on the matter.

But with the election just three weeks away, there it little indication the DNA revelation will affect Warren's standing. The non-partisan Cook Political Report rates Massachusetts as "Solid" Democratic. Numerous polls show her with an extremely strong advantage over Geoff Diehl, her Republican opponent.

Warren herself repeatedly indicated that the results of her campaign's analysis were instead aimed at someone else. That would be Republican President Donald Trump, who is running for re-election in 2020. He has repeatedly dismissed. Warren's claims of Native ancestry in racially-charge terms, even trotting out his familiar "Pocahontas" insult in front of war heroes from the Navajo Nation.

"I will give you a million dollars, to your favorite charity, paid for by Trump, if you take the test and it shows you’re an Indian," the president said at a July 5 rally in Montana, home to a significant Native American population.

Though Trump on Monday denied making the offer when asked by reporters about it, Warren called on him to donate $1 million to the National Indigenous Women's Resource Center.

"NIWRC is a nonprofit working to protect Native women from violence. More than half of all Native women have experienced sexual violence, and the majority of violent crimes against Native Americans are perpetrated by non-Natives," Warren wrote in a post on Twitter.

"Send them your $1M check, @realDonaldTrump," she said.

In the past, Warren, who was born and raised in Oklahoma, has said she has Cherokee or possibly Delaware ancestry, based on stories she heard from her family. She has since declined to state whether she believes she is connected to a specific tribe.

During her first Senate race in 2012, her Republican opponent derided her claims of tribal heritage. That's when the "Pocahontas" insult began to surface.

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