Fake Indians, Phony Women, and Elizabeth Warren

(AP Photo/David Goldman, File)

America’s best-known fake Indian is Elizabeth Warren. She claimed for years that she was descended from the Cherokee tribe. She was lauded as an Indian by Harvard, and likely hired because of it. Warren claimed on her Texas state bar registration that she was Native American and for decades no one challenged it.


Once she came to prominence her claims were vetted widely and subsequently mocked roundly. Trump called her Pocahontas. Social media invented nicknames like “Princess Lies-A-Lot.”

It seemed obvious to the casual observer that she was stealing Indian heritage. A blonde blue-eyed woman with skin so white it was translucent, claimed she was a Cherokee because she had “high cheekbones”. It was just too rich.  Her fakery wasn’t quite to the level of Shaun King’s mockable claims of being a Black man, but Warren’s claim was, nonetheless, laughable. Warren stood by her story until she finally took the bait. To prove her provenance she took a DNA test. She proudly went on TV and claimed the results confirmed her claims.

It didn’t.

What it did confirm was that she had zero Cherokee blood but possibly, maybe, 1/1,024 of South American ancestry.

Warren isn’t unusual. There are a lot of people laying claim to American Indian ancestry. Why?  Because in the 21st century it caries advantages. If unchallenged the awards can include a tenured position at an Ivy League university, or maybe the stage at the Academy Awards.

The Godfather and Marlon Brando were heavy favorites to win the Oscars in 1973. When “Best Actor” was announced, instead of Brando taking the stage, Sacheen Littlefeather took his place. Her hair was in pigtails. She was dressed in a beaded buckskin dress straight out of a Bonanza wardrobe. Littlefeather claimed to be an Apache. She was the daughter of an alcoholic Apache father who abused her. Before she died she said:


“I spoke my heart, not for me, myself, as an Indian woman but for we and us, for all Indian people … I had to speak the truth. Whether or not it was accepted, it had to be spoken on behalf of Native people.”

Just one hiccup. Littlefeather wasn’t Apache. Her dad wasn’t an alcoholic or an Apache. He didn’t abuse Littlefeather. According to Littlefeather’s sisters, she made the whole thing up, including her first and last name.

In Seattle, two men were arrested for faking their Indian ancestry.  Claiming you’re Indian isn’t a crime by itself. Falsely claiming Indian heritage and selling art as Indigenous, is a federal offense.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office said two men claimed Indian lineage and sold art as Indians. One claimed to be an Apache and the other a Nez Perce. They sold masks, totem poles, and pendants. Doing so could cost them both 5 years in prison.

Joe Biden appointed Deb Haaland, a Native American, as Secretary of the Interior. In a New York Times op-ed written by Claudia Lawrence, Lawrence wrote in the plural. She claimed to be an Indian and she wrote the “open letter”  as if she was speaking for all Native Americans. Her bio photo shows her wearing pigtails and “feathered” earrings under a brimmed hat. Just one problem – Lawrence doesn’t have any proof of the Indian heritage that she claims in her bio. After she was outed, the “Native American Journalists Association” rescinded Lawrence’s membership in the registry. Lawrence joins a growing group of faux Indians called “Pretendians”.


Jonny Depp is another celebrity who has claimed Indian ancestry without any evidence. Depp played Tonto in one of the worst movies ever made The Lone Ranger but that doesn’t substitute for actual native ancestry. All evidence of his lineage like census data points to English and Irish ancestors not a claim to Cherokee blood. Why Cherokee? Apparently, it’s a thing in the industry of fake Indians. It’s called Cherokee Princess Syndrome. Apparently, the most common fake Indian is descended from a Cherokee princess. Like stolen valor when a guy claims to be a vet, he’s usually a former SEAL or Delta sniper with two maybe three Medals of Honor. A fake Indian is usually Cherokee “royalty” with maybe a sprinkling of Apache or Comanche warrior blood.

Fake Indians shouldn’t be all that surprising. Shaun King has cashed in on his phony claims of African descent. It took decades for Warren to apologize and disown her fakery. A biological man, dressed and looking like a skinnier ugly version of Jackie Kennedy just spent a day interviewing the US President. Does fakery have a currency?


In the immortal words of John Wayne in the Searchers – “That’ll be the day.”


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