Elizabeth Warren’s Native American Problem Isn’t Going Away

Michael Brendan Dougherty

‘I have listened and I have learned,” said Elizabeth Warren at a forum of Native American voters in Iowa last month. “Like anyone who’s being honest with themselves, I know that I have made mistakes. I am sorry for the harm I have caused.” Did any reporter ask her what harm, specifically, she’d caused, or what, specifically, she’d learned? Did any reporter ask her if her “mistakes” were ones anyone could have made, or ones she believed any of her peers, either at Harvard or in the Senate, had also made?

No, they did not.

I suppose people think that the controversy over Warren’s past claims of Native American ancestry has been put to bed, with Warren rising in the polls because she has plans for everything, including for Native Americans. But in fact, the controversy has not been put to bed, and it shouldn’t be. It points to Elizabeth Warren’s ambitions and lack of integrity, and forces us to ponder whether the rules really apply to those who would make them.

The media have certainly done their best to help Warren in putting the controversy to bed, though. The Boston Globe — in a story that briefly acknowledged that Warren’s “political enemies have long pushed a narrative that her unsubstantiated claims of Native American heritage turbocharged her legal career” — gave ample space to her own much-more-charitable version of events. Her reporter-defenders have pointed out that until a certain time in her life, she declined to participate in affirmative-action programs, though even they have had to admit that the crucial leaps in her academic career — her landing a job at the University of Pennsylvania and then moving on to Harvard — occurred after she began listing herself as a racial minority. The year before Harvard Law School hired her — and trumpeted her as the first woman of color so hired — it had been subject to major, headline-grabbing protests for giving tenure to four white men.

Of course, Warren could have been deluding herself as well. She claims that her belief in her Cherokee heritage came from longstanding family lore. But the fact that she participated in the now-cringe-inducing Pow Wow Chow cookbook and plagiarized her recipes from a French cookbook suggests a certain awareness that she was perpetrating a racial fraud. And then there is the fact that Cherokee Indian is not so much a “socially constructed” racial category as a specific, legally defined identity: You are a Cherokee when the Cherokee nation recognizes you as a member on its rolls. Surely someone who identified as a Native American academically and socially in the way Warren once claimed she did would have sought such official status. But she didn’t.

Warren has repeatedly claimed over the years that her parents’ marriage was rejected by racist grandparents because of her mother’s Cherokee ancestry. But Cherokee genealogist Twila Barnes has said there’s simply no evidence of Cherokee genealogy in Warren’s family. Warren’s mother was not some racial outcast, but the popular daughter of a prominent local family. And there’s no evidence of the romantic elopement, or racist animus on the part of her paternal grandfather, Grant Herring, who regularly played golf with Carnal Wheeling, a recognized Cherokee.

The media haven’t really known how to handle this story. Like a Geiger counter in a North Korean nuclear-weapons lab, the reaction of the “smart set” on Twitter was wildly disconcerting when Elizabeth Warren announced the results of her spectacularly ill-conceived DNA test earlier this year. At first, the trace amounts of Native American heritage were held up as proof against Donald Trump’s attacks. Then, as geneticists and common sense intervened in the discussion, it became obvious that Warren’s Native American roots were negligible.

As the social-climbing Warren begins to gain over actual socialist Bernie Sanders, I expect the Sandernistas to unload on the contradictions between the upwardly mobile Left’s hatred of cultural appropriation and the changing racial identity and falsified family history of its darling Warren. If she survives that and wins the nomination, she’ll face a general election in which the same basic problem remains.

I predict that should she make it that far, everyone will just try to change the subject.

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