Sen. Elizabeth Warren has privately apologized to the leadership of Cherokee Nation for the confusion created by her ill-advised decision to take a DNA test to prove she has Indigenous ancestry, The Intercept reports.
Warren, who launched an exploratory committee in late December and is expected to officially announce her presidential bid next week, came under fire last fall after releasing the results of a DNA test performed by Stanford geneticist Carlos Bustamante. The Massachusetts senator has been involved since 2012 in a ongoing debate over her claims to Native American heritage, specifically Cherokee and Delaware Indian. She's never provided any proof of her self-proclaimed ancestry, insisting it was part of her family's stories, and has never sought out tribal citizenship.
“Senator Warren has reached out to us and has apologized to the tribe,” Julie Hubbard, Cherokee Nation’s executive director of communications, told The Intercept. “We are encouraged by this dialogue and understanding that being a Cherokee Nation tribal citizen is rooted in centuries of culture and laws not through DNA tests. We are encouraged by her action and hope that the slurs and mockery of tribal citizens and Indian history and heritage will now come to an end.”
The DNA test was an attempt to clear the air, in light of President Donald Trump's repeated use of the slur "Pocahontas" to mock Warren's claims. (He had even challenged her to take the test and donate $1 million to the charity of her choice if the results were positive.) According to Bustamante, the senator "absolutely [had] a Native American ancestor in [her] pedigree," dating from six to 10 generations.
But the test backfired. It was not only insulting to Indigenous peoples and muddled the mainstream perception of how sovereign tribal nations determine citizenship, but also played directly into the United States' persistent racial essentialism. Warren faced backlash from most tribal leaders, including from Cherokee Nation. "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 at the time. "Using a DNA test to lay claim to any connection to the Cherokee Nation or any tribal nation, even vaguely, is inappropriate and wrong."
And of course, Trump also refused to honor the bet and continued to peddle the "Pocahontas" slur.
But as she prepares to formally launch her 2020 presidential campaign, Warren has been trying to make amends. She has insisted she's not trying to make it seem like she belongs to a marginalized community, nor she's seeking tribal citizenship. "I am not a person of color. I am not a citizen of a tribe," she said in Sioux City, IA last month. "I grew up in Oklahoma, and like a lot of folks in Oklahoma, we heard stories about our ancestry. When I first ran for public office, Republicans homed in on this part of my history, and thought they could make a lot of hay out of it. A lot of racial slurs, and a lot of ugly stuff. And so my decision was — I’m just gonna put it all out there."