On Elizabeth Warren's Claims of American Indian Ancestry

For those of you who don’t know, I’m a history major currently working toward his Master’s Degree in the same. My particular focus is American Indian history, so I think it should come as little surprise that I’ve been watching the Massachusetts Senate race for more reasons than wanting Scott Brown to win. The moment Elizabeth Warren’s claims of Native ancestry surfaced, a little something went off in my head telling me I had to follow this. I can’t say I was surprised when I learned that these claims are, by everything we know, spurious. Neither can I say I was surprised when I learned she has shown little to no interest in meeting with a group of Cherokees outraged over her apparently fabricated claims.

I can’t profess to be an “expert” on American Indian issues–there are so many tribes and cultures, there are so many differing opinions, and there is much I still have to learn–and I can’t claim to speak for American Indians, whether all or in part. Nevertheless, that doesn’t stop me from being outraged over what Elizabeth Warren has done. To borrow from the late great Andrew Breitbart, it’s time for a little “righteous indignation.”

As Indian Country Today a major newspaper for American Indians, says:

If U.S. Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren was telling the truth back in May when she said that she listed herself as an American Indian minority in order “to find some more people like me” while a professor from 1986 to 1995, she seems to have altogether abandoned that mission. That’s the conclusion of a group of four Cherokee women who are traveling in Massachusetts this week with the intent of meeting with the candidate to talk about her unproven claims of Indian ancestry and her understanding of tribal issues. During their time in Boston, Warren has dodged them – much to the delight of local press pointing out the oddness of the situation – and her campaign has labeled them as out-of-staters cavorting with extremists.

“The out-of-state group in question is being promoted and supported by a right-wing extremist who is on the record supporting and contributing money to Scott Brown,” Warren spokeswoman Alethea Harney told The Boston Herald in an article published on June 20. “It is past time we moved on to the important issues facing middle-class families in Massachusetts — even if Scott Brown won’t.”

No, Mrs. Warren, this isn’t just some political ploy to take you down in the polls. In fact, if anything these people should be your political allies. As the same article notes:

Twila Barnes, a Cherokee genealogist who has found no evidence that Warren is Cherokee as she claims, is outraged by the campaign’s assertions about her group’s travels.

“We don’t need a John Smith,” Barnes told ICTMN on June 20 via telephone. “We are smart Native women who did this on our own, and we are plenty smart enough to figure out that Warren has been less than truthful and now doesn’t want to talk about it. She doesn’t want to give us Native women that credit, yet she calls herself a Native woman. That’s just wrong.”

The Cherokee group of women, which include Barnes, Ellen Goss, and Ali Sacks from out of state, as well as Sky Davis, an Eastern Band citizen who lives in the state, denied they’ve received financial support from Jacobson, and they say they tend to lean left politically. They deny that the Brown campaign orchestrated their visit, and the women say they have partially paid for this visit through fundraising on Facebook and personal funding.

The blog Legal Insurrection has also done some great coverage. In fact, as they argue, Elizabeth Warren has been using Alinsky tactics against them. Apparently, they are just for usage against the Right any more. William A. Jacobson writes:

Note that the Warren campaign never has tried to delegitimize or contradict the actual evidence the Cherokee women had showing that Warren is not being truthful.  Instead, the Warren campaign attacked the messengers of the evidence.

Never to this date has the Warren campaign disputed the findings by Barnes and other Cherokee genealogists that Warren is not Cherokee.  Not once.

The purpose of the delegitimization was to isolate the Cherokee women, to suggest that if they received assistance of any type, they were illegitimate.


These were proud Cherokee women who came to Boston in good faith in the hope that Warren would do the right thing, meet with them, look at the evidence, and stop making false claims to be Cherokee.

And they were met with Alinsky Rule No. 12: Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it. Cut off the support network and isolate the target from sympathy.

This is a classic example of what happens when members of a minority group speak up against the Left, even when said members otherwise agree with Liberal orthodoxy. We’ve seen the same kind of thing happen when Juan Williams made certain comments about Muslims on NPR and was fired for it. The party that claims to stand up for such marginal groups as minorities and the poor only does so when those groups conform to their ideology. Speak up and you are shouted down will be targeted by the same tactics they use against the right. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Juan Williams or an Allen West. Dissent is heresy, and heresy is anathema.

Contrary to Elizabeth Warren’s assertions, these are legitimate questions of character. You have not just been accused, with legitimate evidence to support it, of lying about your past, you have been accused of manufacturing an identity in another culture in order to “fit in” and advance your own interests. It is an outrage both that she has made these assertions and that she will not confront a group of Cherokees who want answers from her. Someone who was truly concerned with Native opinions would drop the “pawns of a right-wing extremist” rhetoric and take some time out of her busy campaign schedule to meet with them, especially since they might normally be her allies. As the Indian Country Today article notes:

Some Natives feel Warren is aggravating an already sensitive situation by having her campaign say that this is a non-issue because many Indians feel her self-identification is a crucial issue that speaks to her character and to how she understands Indian issues, which would be an important part of her job if elected to Congress.

“Elizabeth Warren has avoided taking responsibility for her false ethnic claims by avoiding a group of Cherokee women who traveled hundreds of miles just to spend time with her,” says David Cornsilk, a United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians citizen, who has created a Facebook group drawing attention to the Warren controversy. “Warren claimed she wanted to meet others like herself while claiming to be a Cherokee, yet when presented with the chance to actually talk to four authentic Cherokee women representing membership in all three of the federally recognized Cherokee tribes; she flees like a scared rabbit.”

Indian culture is apparently a plaything for Mrs. Warren. She ought to have more respect than that, but instead she has the audacity to play the victim. As Legal Insurrection notes:

Warren’s behavior has been disreputable and should be disqualifying.  Warren talks a good game about fighting for the downtrodden at the same time that she steps on the backs of generations of Cherokees.

The way Warren has treated these Cherokee women is the way a schoolyard bully treats physically weaker classmates.

Yet miraculously and in a myriad of ways Warren always portrays herself as a victim.  Warren tells stories about being Cherokee, yet somehow is the victim when Cherokees demand she tell the truth.

Mrs. Warren, Indian heritage isn’t something you claim because you want to be like “them”–whatever the Indians in your head may look like. We’ve seen enough of that throughout our nation’s history. Even in recent decades, we have all sorts of New Age “Indian Tribes” constituted of various people of non-Native descent trying to construct a new identity for themselves based upon the images of Indians that existed in their heads.

Furthermore, Indian heritage isn’t something you claim to get special treatment or any similar cynical and self-serving reason. Furthermore, it isn’t something you claim just because your mother told you so. You have to be willing to do the actual research. When you do go looking, you do it respectfully and out of an interest for filling out the gaps in your own heritage.

There are two ways used by tribes to determine if you are eligible for membership. The first is the descent system, which the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma uses. All it requires is that you be able to trace your ancestry to someone on the Dawes Rolls, you are eligible for membership.

The other method is the blood method, which relies on your blood quantum (the degree of Indian blood you have). If your great-grandmother was a full blooded American Indian and married a non-Indian, your grandmother would be half Indian blood. If she married another non-Indian, your mother would be one-quarter Indian blood. If she too married a non-Indian, you would be one-eighth Indian blood, meaning you’d have a one-eighth Indian blood quantum.

There are long established ways of verifying the degree of Indian blood you have. The most common is called the Certificate of Degree of Indian Blood (CDIB), and you cannot be admitted into many tribes without it (other tribes that utilize blood quantum use similar methods). There is an application for it here at the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ website (pdf), and the Choctaw Nation has a nice list of FAQs (pdf) about it at their website (as well as information pertinent to those trying to join the tribe).

Each tribe has its own standards for enrolling new members. For example, the Eastern Band of Cherokee, based in North Carolina, has the following requirements:

  • Have an ancestor listed on the Baker Roll of 1924
  • 1/16 Eastern Cherokee blood quantum (be at least 1/16 Cherokee by descent)
  • Be under 18 years of age
Some tribes are more restrictive in their blood requirements. The Hopi Nation (which also includes the Hopi-Tewa people), for example, has these requirements:
  • 1/4 degree Hopi/Hopi-Tewa blood (with a CDIB)
  • Be a lineal descendant of someone listed on the Hopi Basic Membership Roll of 12/31/37.
  • The applicant must not be enrolled with any other tribe, as dual enrollment is prohibited.

And each tribe also has a website providing the necessary advice and information for applying for enrollment. Of the tribes I’ve mentioned in this post, here are the pages for the Eastern Band of Cherokee, the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, the Choctaw Nation, and I’ve already provided the link for the Hopi Nation.

Elizabeth Warren could have tried to verify her claims through the acceptable legal means for the relevant tribe, but she has apparently not. It can be time consuming, but it’s not especially difficult for most people, as long as they can identify their biological parents. It’s simple: either you meet the requirements or you do not. It might take a little genealogical research, but Indian tribes are typically very willing to assist people in their search.

Regrettably for those of us in possession of common sense and a well-developed conscience, our Elizabeth Warren story doesn’t end there. Despite the fact that she has yet to win an election for anything, she is already being touted as a frontrunner for 2016. The Atlantic reports:

Confirming the impression I’d gleaned from my conversations with activists and organizers, Warren ran away with the 2016 straw poll conducted at the Take Back the American Dream conference in Washington, winning 32 percent of the vote to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s 27 percent. Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown, who spoke at the conference and whose brand of gravelly-voiced populism is a perpetual hit with this crowd, was third with 16 percent; the other names on the ballot, all polling in single digits, were New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Vice President Joe Biden, and Virginia Sen. Mark Warner.

As it stands now, an Elizabeth Warren campaign for President, to say nothing of her actually winning the spot (which I doubt she will), would be a humongous slap in the face to American Indians if she cannot verify her claims. It is already bad enough that she is still in the Massachusetts Senate race. As The Atlantic notes, though, it is a sign of desperation over the size of their “farm team” that the Democrats are even considering her for the Presidency to begin with.

Simply put, Elizabeth Warren either needs to prove her ancestry, or admit that she is a phony and a fraud. If she is the latter–and I personally suspect she is–she ought to drop out of the Massachusetts Senate race out of respect for the Senate, the standards to which we ought to hold our elected officials and candidates, and American Indians everywhere. At the very least, she ought to meet with those Cherokee women. She owes it to Cherokees and other Indians everywhere.

Imagine if it had been a Republican making these claims. He or she would be justly banished from the political scene.

The partisan hack in me would like to remind you to donate to Senator Scott Brown. We can keep this seat away from Elizabeth Warren. Whether she’s Indian or not, her ideas for America are dangerous enough. Fortunately, Massachusetts still isn’t fully buying what she’s selling.

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