Native American Groups Criticize Elizabeth Warren Over DNA Test

Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images.
As she becomes more serious about running for president in 2020, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren is attempting to clear the air about her Native American ancestry after President Donald Trump's constant racist taunts calling her "Pocahontas" by taking a DNA test. But the Cherokee Nation has called her efforts to prove her heritage "inappropriate and wrong."
On Monday, Sen. Warren released a video in which Stanford geneticist Carlos Bustamante tells her "the facts suggest that you absolutely have a Native American ancestor in your pedigree," with estimates ranging from 1/64th to 1/1024th.
Trump, of course, paid no attention to the facts and continued to call her the racist name. "Pocahontas (the bad version), sometimes referred to as Elizabeth Warren, is getting slammed," he tweeted Tuesday. "She took a bogus DNA test and it showed that she may be 1/1024, far less than the average American. Now Cherokee Nation denies her, 'DNA test is useless.' Even they don't want her. Phony!"
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He continued: "Now that her claims of being of Indian heritage have turned out to be a scam and a lie, Elizabeth Warren should apologize for perpetrating this fraud against the American Public. Harvard called her 'a person of color' (amazing con), and would not have taken her otherwise!" In Sen. Warren's video, professors and students from Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania law schools refute Trump's allegation that she used her ancestry to get ahead. Although she checked the box on some official forms, there's no evidence that Sen. Warren was hired anywhere due to her heritage.
The bigger problem, though, isn't Trump's statements — he will continue talking whether or not she responds. Now that she's taken the DNA test, she's being criticised for playing into America's racial essentialism, which Trump uses to create partisan distraction. See: the racist birther theory about President Barack Obama he kept up well into the 2016 election.
Another sign Sen. Warren's move was miscalculated is the Cherokee Nation's criticism. "Sovereign tribal nations set their own legal requirements for citizenship, and while DNA tests can be used to determine lineage, such as paternity to an individual, it is not evidence for tribal affiliation," the Cherokee Nation’s secretary of state Chuck Hoskin, Jr. said in a statement on Monday. "Using a DNA test to lay claim to any connection to the Cherokee Nation or any tribal nation, even vaguely, is inappropriate and wrong."
He continued: "It makes a mockery out of DNA tests and its legitimate uses while also dishonouring legitimate tribal governments and their citizens, whose ancestors are well documented and whose heritage is proven. Sen. Warren is undermining tribal interests with her continued claims of tribal heritage."
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In the video she released, Sen. Warren says: "I'm not enrolled in a tribe, and only tribes determine tribal citizenship. I understand and respect that distinction, but my family history is my family history."
But others argue that by bringing DNA into the picture at all, Sen. Warren is using her white privilege to define her identity. "For Elizabeth Warren to center a Native American ancestry test as the next move in her fight with Republicans is to make yet another strike — even if unintended — against tribal sovereignty," Kim TallBear, associate professor at the University of Alberta Faculty of Native Studies, said in a statement, pointing out that Sen. Warren has not met with Cherokee Nation members who have challenged her claims. "This shows that she focuses on and actually privileges DNA company definitions in this debate, which are ultimately settler-colonial definitions of who is Indigenous."
As a small silver lining to this embarrassing fiasco, the National Indigenous Women's Resource Center (NIWRC) has received an influx of donations thanks to Sen. Warren.
In July, Trump said he'd give $1 million to Sen. Warren's "favorite charity, if you take the test and it shows you're an Indian." After she completed the DNA test, Sen. Warren took him up on it, tweeting that he should send his check to the NIWRC, a nonpartisan organisation working to end gender-based violence against indigenous women.
Princella RedCorn, communications officer at NIWRC, told Refinery29 that there has been a huge increase in donations since Monday, although she could not specify the exact number — mostly small, individual gifts. None from the president, however.
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"We will continue to do this lifesaving work with or without the President's donation," NIWRC board chairwoman Cherrah Giles said in a statement. The organisation said that while the conversation has centred around Sen. Warren's ancestry claims, it would be more worthwhile to focus on the high levels of sexual and intimate partner violence indigenous women experience. According to a May 2016 study by the National Institute of Justice, 56.1% have experienced sexual violence and 
55.5% have experienced physical violence by an intimate partner.
"We appreciate Senator Warren's push to bring awareness to violence against American Indian and Alaska Native women and families, who all too often are invisible to most Americans. As marginalised communities, we often struggle to bring tribal interests to the centre of the debate."
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