Sen. Elizabeth Warren trumpeted Monday DNA test results showing she has a smidgen of Native American blood, although no more than the average U.S. white person, even as Cherokees accused her of dishonoring them with her dubious claims of tribal ancestry.
Cherokee Nation Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr. said the Massachusetts Democrat was “undermining” Native Americans with her attempt to prove her tribal heritage using genetic testing, calling it “inappropriate and wrong.”
“Using a DNA test to lay claim to any connection to the Cherokee Nation or any tribal nation, even vaguely, is inappropriate and wrong,” said Mr. Hoskin in a statement. “It makes a mockery out of DNA tests and its legitimate uses while also dishonoring legitimate tribal governments and their citizens whose ancestors are well documented and whose heritage is proven.”
“Senator Warren is undermining tribal interests with her continued claims of tribal heritage,” he concluded.
Kim TallBear, professor of native studies at the University of Alberta, accused Ms. Warren of refusing to meet with Cherokee Nation members who challenge her claims and blasted her for “colonial-settler definitions of who is Indigenous.”
“She and much of the US American public privilege the voices of (mostly white) genome scientists and implicitly cede to them the power to define Indigenous identity,” said Ms. TallBear in a statement. “As scholars of race have shown, it is one of the privileges of whiteness to define and control everyone else’s identity.”
after too many media inquiries, here is my statement on the #ElizabethWarren DNA testing story. pic.twitter.com/cqD8PQqI0N
— Kim TallBear (@KimTallBear) October 15, 2018
Ms. Warren has come under public pressure to prove her ancestry claims by testing her DNA, but the tribal backlash indicated that she may have only compounded her political woes as she considers a run for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.
Even so, she took a victory lap Monday by throwing the DNA findings in President Trump’s face, saying the Republican should make good on his July vow to donate $1 million to her favorite charity if she could prove she had Native American ancestry.
The test, which she took in August at a Georgia lab, found she was 1/64th to 1/1024th Native American, or 0.09 to 1.5 percent, based on an analysis done by Stanford University geneticist Carlos Bustamante, who said the results “strongly support the existence of a unadmixed Native American ancestor.”
European Americans on average have 0.18 percent Native American blood, according to a 2014 study by Harvard University and 23andMe, meaning that she may actually be less Native than the typical U.S. white person.
“How much? One-one thousandth?” Mr. Trump said when asked about the DNA test. “I don’t owe her. She owes the country and apology.”
Mr. Trump said he wouldn’t pay off on the bet, which he pledged to give to charity, unless he could personally verify the results.
“I’ll only do it if I can test her personally. That will not be something I enjoy either,” said the president.
Ms. Warren also released a video Monday of her relatives in Norman, Oklahoma, criticizing Mr. Trump for dubbing her “Pocahontas,” calling the nickname “ridiculous” and “stupid.”
My family (including Fox News-watchers) sat together and talked about what they think of @realDonaldTrump’s attacks on our heritage. And yes, a famous geneticist analyzed my DNA and concluded that it contains Native American ancestry. pic.twitter.com/r3SNzP22f8
— Elizabeth Warren (@elizabethforma) October 15, 2018
“I took this test and released the results for anyone who cares to see because I’ve got nothing to hide. What are YOU hiding, @realDonaldTrump?” tweeted Ms. Warren. “Release your tax returns – or the Democratic-led House will do it for you soon enough. Tick-tock, Mr President.”
There are two federally recognized tribes in Oklahoma, where Ms. Warren grew up: the Cherokee Nation and the United Keetowah Band of Cherokee Indians. A third Cherokee tribe, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, is based in North Carolina.
Members of the Cherokee Nation must be able to trace their heritage to an ancestor on the Dawes roll, while Keetowah members must show a relative on the 1949 Keetowah base roll as well as a blood quantum of one-quarter Cherokee.
Brittney Bennett, Keetowah media director, said that blood quantum must be proved by ancestry, not DNA testing, and verified by the Bureau of Indian Affairs with a Certificate of Degree of Indian Blood [CIB].
“The problem that you have with DNA testing, it could probably prove an area of descent, but it can’t pinpoint a specific tribe,” said Ms. Bennett. “A lot of this, we don’t put stock in here. You have to actually prove a lineage to an ancestor.”
Cherokee genealogist Twila Barnes, who has conducted extensive research into Ms. Warren’s family tree, cited problems associated with DNA tests, including a Toronto lab that found indigenous ancestry in a sample taken from a dog.
“Even dogs have tested positive for Native DNA,” said Ms. Barnes. “The test means nothing. An American Indian is not a race, but a status based on tribal citizenship. Warren disrespected tribal sovereignty and all tribal citizens by trying to use DNA to show she’s an Indian.”
In his analysis, Mr. Bustamante said the results of Ms. Warren’s DNA test “strongly support the evidence of an unadmixed Native American ancestor” dating back six to 10 generations.
At the same time, he noted that genetic data from Native Americans is scarce because U.S. tribes have declined to participate in “recent population genetic studies,” and that he filled in with samples from Mexico, Peru and Colombia.
Mr. Hoskin described DNA tests as “useless” in determining tribal citizenship.
“Current DNA tests do not even distinguish whether a person’s ancestors were indigenous to North or South America,” Mr. Hoskin said. “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.”
Republicans have long accused Ms. Warren of listing herself as Native American at Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania to advance her professional career, which she and Harvard faculty members have denied.
At least one Democrat blasted her decision to release the DNA results three weeks before a crucial midterm election.
“Argue the substance all you want, but why 22 days before a crucial election where we MUST win house and senate to save America, why did @SenWarren have to do her announcement now?” asked former Obama campaign manager Jim Messina. “Why can’t Dems ever stay focused???”
• S.A. Miller and Gabriella Munoz contributed to this report.
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