Why is Elizabeth Warren's Native American ancestry a political issue?

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5

In the past (perhaps during her Senate campaign), Senator Elizabeth Warren has mentioned that she has some Native American blood in her geneology. For some reason, Donald Trump has accused her of lying about this, and he's also made fun of her by calling her "Pocahontas". It seems reminiscent of the way he championed the "birther" movement that claimed President Barack Obama was not actually born in the US, and demanded to see his birth certificate.

At a rally earlier this year he challenged her to prove it, saying he would donate $1 millon to her favorite charity. Today she released results of a DNA analysis that showed a strong likelihood that an ancestor 6-10 generations ago was Native American, and gave the name of a charity Trump should give the millon dollars to. Trump is now disputing that he ever made that offer (even though the media has been playing the tape of it all day), and other Republicans are saying that it's a really small fraction of her lineage (did she say otherwise?).

Why does any of this matter? As far as I can recall, she doesn't refer to this much when discussing legislative policy. What point was she trying to make when she claimed Native American heritage? Are her opponents just trying to catch her in a lie, that she falsely claimed Native American ancestry to try to garner support from that constituency? Or is there more significance to it than that?

Senator Warren has given some indications that she might consider a run for the Presidency in 2020. I'd hate to think that something trivial like this could derail such ambitions.

Barmar

Posted 2018-10-16T02:28:58.133

Reputation: 6 260

1

Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.

– yannis – 2018-10-18T10:04:25.597

50A point of factual correction: you state that Trump offered to donate $1m if Warren proved "that she has some Native American blood in her geneology". I'm pretty sure he never did this. Instead, I find him quoted as saying: "I will give you a million dollars to your favorite charity, paid for by Trump, if you take the test and it shows you're an Indian." This quibble matters because most people these days would not define Warren as being a Native American because of a single ancestor 6-10 generations ago, and so, by ordinary definitions, Warren has not met the condition Trump outlined. – Mark Amery – 2018-10-18T11:43:43.907

26@MarkAmery Trump is not the most precise at word choice, such that we often need SHS to translate what he actually means by what he says. Arguing semantics over the exact words he used is a lesson in futility. – Carduus – 2018-10-18T13:34:52.733

@MarkAmery When reminded this week about it, rather than refute whether the DNA test met the criteria he wanted, he simply denied making the offer. – Barmar – 2018-10-18T18:18:10.507

26@Barmar I don't think that's true either, despite lots of the left-wing press asserting it. The exact words of his denial, as quoted by the press, were "I didn't say that. You'd better read it again." I don't see any interpretation of what the "it" in there could refer to other than the wording of the offer that he made; in other words, the truth is that his supposed "denial" of ever making the offer actually openly acknowledges that he did indeed make it. What he's rejecting is the claim that the terms of the offer were met by Warren. And on that point, he's completely correct and honest. – Mark Amery – 2018-10-19T13:13:29.217

11@Barmar (It's possible I'm misinterpreting the "it" in the second sentence, since I can't find any source that states precisely what question Trump was responding to. But even so, the statement "I didn't say that", in response to any claim that Trump said he'd donate $1m if Warren demonstrated a Native American heritage, is true, and is not a denial of ever having made any offer to her at all. His critics who chose to spin it that way are each either wrong or dishonest.) – Mark Amery – 2018-10-19T13:20:20.453

2Serious question: why do you think there's any topic that isn't political (or can easily become political just by being uttered by a political figure) today? Any topic can enter the public eye and become of national interest. Why is this surprising to you? – jpmc26 – 2018-10-19T18:07:53.577

@Carduus While I would agree in general, this seems pretty clear, first with respect to his choice of words and second with what one typically would understand by it - i.e. it's clear that there is a grey area in what constitutes being (partially) of some ethnicity based on some mix in somewhere in the ancestry. To bring that "contest" up at all is pretty rubbish. – Frank Hopkins – 2019-05-09T16:52:23.593

@FrankHopkins President Trump is repeatedly rated as 'plain-talking' and as saying what he means, rather than what is politically correct or expedient. I am positive that if he meant something more specific than what he said, he would have said so. Likewise, he has a habit of reneging on offers such as these, so the addition of this 'contest' is hardly rubbish. – Carduus – 2019-05-09T20:19:00.803

@Carduus what he thinks he means and what sounds good at the moment. And I'd contest the "rather what is politically expedient", it is expedient wrt his voter base. It is not diplomatic if that's what you meant. "Trolling" the perceived (progressive) establishment is politically advantageous for him wrt to his (core) voter base albeit potentially immoral/dishonest. – Frank Hopkins – 2019-05-09T20:53:38.890

@Carduus And my criticism isn't in trying to hold him by what he said, but that this whole affair and in particular the X money if you are of Y-heritage is tabloid mud politics, borderline racist (both ways; let's look at how long your nose is; I have a drop of ancient blood so I can speak for everyone of the group) and not worthy of any more of my time. Have a nice day. – Frank Hopkins – 2019-05-09T20:54:53.623

@FrankHopkins You were the one that reopened a six month old thread to make one more comment, not me. :) Have a nice day yourself. – Carduus – 2019-05-10T12:54:30.803

Answers

44

Politically, it is a very fruitful issue for those who wish to have the most bang for their attack-ad dollar.

The fact is, she checked Native American in addition to White in some post-hire Harvard survey to determine if their staff met diversity goals. While we can only guess at her motivation, the fact that it was done post-hire suggests it was not done for personal gain, but in a (possibly ill-advised) attempt at 'helping'. "Hey, my family has always claimed a Cherokee/Delaware ancestor! Harvard needs to meet its diversity quotas. I'm not lying if I check this box."

This by itself would not be a political problem but for the fact that she waffled on her acceptance of the mantle of 'Native American'. In political parlance, to refuse to embrace all aspects of one's (uncontroversial) heritage (especially mixed-heritage) is a show of weakness or intolerance. As her Senate opponent Scott Brown vowed not to accept Super PAC ads directly, the Scott-aligned Super PAC America 360 seized on this show of weakness and passed a tip to the Boston Herald that Warren's background was a bit confused on her status as a minority, thus skirting the ban.

This created an issue for Warren, a white woman from the very liberal state of Massachusetts:

  1. She could disavow the fact that she checked a box in the 80s and risk offending Native Americans.

  2. She could trump up her Native American heritage with no proof but hearsay from her grandparents and thus risk being proven wrong, risk the Native community's rejection as a cheap political ploy, AND risk liberal white Massachusetts voters thinking she's trying too hard.

  3. Ignore the problem and hope it goes away.

These are the sorts of conundrums that attack ad people absolutely love: a problem with no good solution. She chose to waffle between choice 2 and 3, making what would have otherwise been a slam dunk campaign into a real nail-biter.

Trump has a real knack for seizing at other people's perceived weaknesses and playing them up into a whole persona, so when Warren started attacking Trump during the 2016 primaries, it didn't take him long to adopt (credit to @Underminer) the nickname of Pocahontas.

Carduus

Posted 2018-10-16T02:28:58.133

Reputation: 13 794

1Skirting what ban? – Matthew Elvey – 2018-10-16T22:58:31.403

@MatthewElvey I infer from the sentence in question that it was the self-imposed ban on accepting funds/help from Super-PACs. – zibadawa timmy – 2018-10-17T00:52:23.573

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@MatthewElvey: See https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/brown-warren-pledge-to-curb-outside-campaign-spending/2012/01/23/gIQAi4jbLQ_story.html (though "ban" doesn't seem like quite the right word IMHO).

– ruakh – 2018-10-17T01:20:51.863

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Trump didn't come up with the nickname Pocahontas. It was used in 2012 by others first, https://www.realclearpolitics.com/2012/05/02/on_the_reservation_with_pocahontas_warren_278944.html

– Underminer – 2018-10-17T17:07:53.137

1@MatthewElvey 2012 was right after Citizens United came out, allowing unlimited and untraceable political donations so long as they weren't directly controlled by the candidate. Warren and Brown signed an agreement that they would incur penalties each time a SuperPAC bought an ad to help a candidate. So by funding opposition research and then leaking that research to the press, it wasn't technically an ad, and thus didn't fall under their agreement. – Carduus – 2018-10-18T12:58:18.267

176

What point was she trying to make when she claimed Native American heritage?

There's a few things to consider here

  1. Native Americans are a pretty well defined minority group, complete with an actual culture. Warren either sold herself, or heavily implied, that she was a minority, despite the fact that she was clearly not a member of that minority. She has never done anything culturally with Native Americans, nor did her parents live as Native Americans.

  2. Warren has been inconsistent on why she did it and how much she knew. In 2012, while running for Senate, she said she did it to "find people like her". She was listed as a minority for most of her Harvard tenure

    US Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren said on Wednesday that she listed herself as a minority in directories of law professors in the hopes of networking with other “people like me” — meaning those with Native American roots. Asked whether she considers herself to be a minority, the Democrat said, “Native American is part of my family. It’s an important part of my heritage.”

    Last week, Warren said she had no idea that Harvard was touting her as a minority in the 1990s. But two days later, she acknowledged that for years before she joined the faculty at Harvard, she had been classifying herself as a minority professor in a directory of the Association of American Law Schools. That directory included Warren on a list of minority professors from 1986 through 1995.

    She then claimed "high cheekbones" as proof of her claim

    "I have lived in a family that has talked about Native Americans, talked about tribes since I had been a little girl," she said. "I still have a picture on my mantel and it is a picture my mother had before that - a picture of my grandfather. And my Aunt Bea has walked by that picture at least a 1,000 times remarked that he - her father, my Papaw -- had high cheek bones like all of the Indians do. Because that is how she saw it and your mother got those same great cheek bones and I didn't. She that thought was the bad deal she had gotten in life."

    More recently she has claimed that her parents had to elope because her mother was "too Cherokee" (a claim that seems less likely in light of the distant relationship from her test)

    My mom and dad were very much in love and they wanted to get married. And my father’s parents said, ‘Absolutely not, you can’t marry her, because she’s part Cherokee and part Delaware.’ After fighting it as long as they could, my parents went off, and they eloped. It was an issue in our family the whole time I grew up about these two families. It was an issue still raised at my mother’s funeral.

  3. Warren submitted several recipes for a cookbook entitled "Pow Wow Chow" that appear to have been plagiarized, and from non-Native American sources

    The 1984 cookbook Pow Wow Chow was edited by Mrs Warren's cousin Candy Rowsey and is billed as a collection of recipes from the Five Civilized Tribes.

    But it appears that at least three of the five recipes featured in the book were fakes, according to an investigation by Mr Carr.

  4. Harvard touted Warren as a minority professor as a way to blunt criticism that the faculty was not diverse (emphasis mine)

    "The fact that there never have been Asian Americans, Native Americans, gays, lesbians, Latinos, Latinas and women of color [on the faculty] is a subject of major concern," said Wilkins, who is black.

    Although the conventional wisdom among students and faculty is that the Law School faculty includes no minority women, Chmura said Professor of Law Elizabeth Warren is Native American.

  5. Warren identified herself as Native American on a Texas State Bar card

    Warren's Texas State Bar Card

Why does any of this matter?

The problem, ultimately, is that Warren clearly derived some social benefit from the claims she made. Warren is basically a white woman, but by claiming to be a minority woman she could raise her social standing among her peers by being touted as some sort of ceiling breaker (i.e. being viewed as a a Harvard version of Rosa Parks), instead of a woman with white privilege.

enter image description here

While the test does indicate that she indeed has a Native American ancestor, the test does not make her a part of any Native American tribe, which is what the box is meant to indicate. It raises questions about Warren's credibility. Consider that she may be facing off, in the Democratic primaries, against Corey Booker and/or Kamala Harris in 2020 (both are black). It's easy to assume they would want to question her about being labeled a "woman of color".

Machavity

Posted 2018-10-16T02:28:58.133

Reputation: 33 727

58Why has this been downvoted so much? It seems like a straightforward answer to the question "why does this matter?" – Paul Johnson – 2018-10-16T08:44:46.243

13@PaulJohnson I downvoted because of a number of unsubstantiated claims and questionable sources (Daily Mail?). For example... – CrackpotCrocodile – 2018-10-16T18:15:47.897

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It claims she "checked the box as a minority", but doesn't back it up with specifics. According to politifacts she eventually told Harvard "her family tree includes Native Americans" not that she was "Native American" (related claims sound like they may have been Harvard's dishonesty).

– CrackpotCrocodile – 2018-10-16T18:15:59.067

Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.

– Sam I am says Reinstate Monica – 2018-10-17T16:19:37.367

29-1 for claiming that telling a story about the cheekbones was somehow offered as "proof." and for acting like recipes offered for community or group cook books are supposed to be original works. She offered it as the person to offered the recipe, not the person who invented it. This is an absurd exaggeration that exemplifies the tempest in a teapot that her political opponents are trying to fabricate. "the test does not make her a part of any Native American tribe, which is what the box is meant to indicate" - she never claimed otherwise, and, no, checking a box does not mean a tribal claim. – PoloHoleSet – 2018-10-17T20:35:20.837

5Answer seems incomplete. The other reason it's political is because others in the government have referred to her with derision as "Pocahontas" . With a certain somebody claiming they'd donate 1 million to charity if she took a DNA test and it actually showed Native American ancestry. – Shufflepants – 2018-10-17T21:01:26.127

14@CrackpotCrocodile According to the post, both Fordham Law Review and a spokesman for Harvard Law School incorrectly identified Warren as a minority woman. Warren is guilty of deception, at the very least. The case seems pretty cut and dry. Whether you think it is politically disqualifying is a separate issue from why this is a political big deal. – kingledion – 2018-10-18T13:37:22.810

4@kingledion If you can point to even one example of a politician who never deceived anyone, I will let you ride my unicorn. – barbecue – 2018-10-18T16:46:59.527

1@kingledion - Wouldn't that be the Fordham Law Review and Harvard mis-characterizing Warren's information? – PoloHoleSet – 2018-10-18T19:15:56.670

8@PoloHoleSet It's highly unlikely Fordham Law Review and Harvard (pretty reputable places) didn't have Warren's input on her characterization. Trump says: "I will give you a million dollars, paid for by Trump, to your favorite charity, if you take the test and it shows you’re an Indian." Warren indicates she passed the test (by way of telling Trump he owes $1 million), indicating she identifies as an Indian (Native American). Saying Warren hasn't embraced her status as a Native American, and that the Fordham Law Review/Harvard are mistaken, is not a good argument. – Underminer – 2018-10-18T19:35:10.603

1@Underminer - that might be true if how that information was used amounted to anything more than her name appearing on a list of names that are grouped and categorized. She said, herself, that she didn't realize her name would be disseminated in that fashion, and that she stopped listing herself like that once she saw that it was. As a student, formerly, as a member of different professional groups now, my name shows up on lists that they publish. No one asks me for editorial input on my name showing up in the middle of a pile of other names. – PoloHoleSet – 2018-10-18T19:40:57.807

4@Underminer - your characterization is the fundamentally dishonest one that is driving this nonsense. Warren indicates she "passed the test" - *indicating that she was not lying about having Native American heritage from a distant ancestor*. That was her claim, that has always been her only claim, and that what she has been castigated for as a liar. She has claimed nothing else. – PoloHoleSet – 2018-10-18T19:43:03.597

9@PoloHoleSet the DNA test doesnt even prove she's "Native American" it shows shes 99% white european caucasian, and 0.1% Mexican/Peruvian/Columbian. Doesn't even prove "Native American" since there's not a distinct DNA type called "Native American" or Indian (implying Native American). Its all such a crock foisted by Warren whos so unhinged on Trump and many others before him (I believe Mark Levin coined the term) calling her "Fauxcohontas" or "Pocahontas" She should be focusing on policy, but she's arguing DNA results – enorl76 – 2018-10-19T02:56:51.613

3It seems disingenuous to accuse Warren of focussing on this when it is Trump (who you would think would have better things to do) bringing it up again and again. Should she not defend herself when the president of the United States is publicly deriding her? – Eric Nolan – 2018-10-19T15:48:21.210

4@enorl76 - There are not specific tribal DNA types, but there are certainly "Native American" or indigenous American DNA types. And, no, your entire comment is disingenuous. It says, probably six to ten generations ago, you default to ten, her claim was about six and the evidence validates that it can be true. 1/64 is likely, you characterize it as less by a factor of 150X. While it specifically proves nothing, what they found out fits, like a glove, with her claims. It shows that there is no reason to think what she claims is not true. It shows there is no basis for claiming she lied. – PoloHoleSet – 2018-10-19T21:50:39.887

1

@enorl76 - Funny how you claim there is no "native American" type, but apparently you feel that there is a native mexican/columbian/peruvian type. The common ancestors that they shared didn't exactly delineate by western European-drawn boundaries that wouldn't exist for thousands of years. Your characterization of what the DNA sampling was used for is also disingenuous, though it could just be you don't know what you are talking about. Here are what actual experts in the field have to say - https://www.politifact.com/truth.../elizabeth-warrens-dna-test-what-it-can-and-cant-te/

– PoloHoleSet – 2018-10-19T21:54:19.090

4If so why not check for early Russian. Warrens year shows she’s at least 97% white Caucasian. By that def were all minorities then. She should go back to talking policy instead of stepping in identity politics. – enorl76 – 2018-10-21T05:16:51.233

7@Eric Nolan I believe it was Warren who threw this to the Boston Globe right? Who’s keeping it around? They didn’t even get the math right they were so eager to just publish anything that might refute Trump. It’s pretty laughable, the whole thing. And yet it’s unraveled Warrens identity politics. It’s funny replying to both these last questions together since both roads lead to Warren shooting herself in the foot. – enorl76 – 2018-10-21T05:21:22.507

1As an immigrant in the US for nearly a decade - the idea of that box meaning tribal membership, as opposed to ethnicity/ancestry is not made at all clear in any materials I've ever seen. – toonarmycaptain – 2018-10-22T13:22:33.627

@Underminer source for " Trump says: "I will give you a million dollars, paid for by Trump, to your favorite charity, if you take the test and it shows you’re an Indian."" I've looked into this issue, including watching the video where this claim is supposedly made, and this is a gross mis-representation of the facts that I've seen to date. Do you have a different source? – NPSF3000 – 2018-10-22T14:23:02.823

@Machavity With respect to the picture of the snippet from the Fordham Review, you might want to add a pointer to the non-paywalled document: Laura M. Padilla, "Intersectionality and Positionality: Situating Women on Color in the Affirmative Action Dialogue." Fordham Law Review, Vol. 66, No. 3 (1997), pp. 843-930 (online)

– njuffa – 2018-10-28T23:02:48.780

2I'm wanting to know why she hasn't been pilloried for her involvement in the publication of a cook book with such a culturally insensitive title. – EvilSnack – 2019-01-02T03:33:21.617

The reason it's a big deal is because honesty. To some, it would look as if she lied about her ancestry whenever it suited her, something distasteful to most people. – Paul Draper – 2021-02-20T01:57:02.767

56

The trivial answer is that its a political issue because she's a politician and a public figure, so its in several parties' interest to make a big deal about it.

Unfortunately, that also means its in a lot of people's interest to pretend things are much simpler than they are. I think its really important to start here with some basic facts.

The main one is that it is exceedingly ill-defined what it means to be Native American.* Part of this is that tribes historically did not operate on the European concept of "blood". The closest modern equivalent an internet user would likely understand would be gaming clans. If you wanted to join, and the existing members thought you could contribute and wouldn't be a cultural problem, then you were a member. This particularly appealed to clannish Scotts-Irish people. Sam Houston, while 100% Scotts-Irish was in fact a member of the Cherokee Nation with (for a while) a Cherokee wife. Chief John Ross, who led the Cherokee tribe on the Trail of Tears, was 7/8ths Scotts Irish, and had red hair and blue eyes.

So what a lot of people outside of Oklahoma may not realize is that here it is not at all unusual to see a Native American who looks completely "white". Particularly in Oklahoma, where Warren is from.

There also a disconnect with tribal rolls. They were created and families were put on them in the early 20th Century at the insistence of the Federal Government, but it was often fairly arbitrary how they were drawn up. Since there was money involved in being on them (government benefits, and sometimes tribal revenues), there has always been an incentive to get yourself on them, and to throw other people off of them.2 Excluded Native Americans take the tribes to court over this all the time, but there are many more who don't care that much about the benefits or don't have the money for lawyers and are willing to let it slide. So it is also not uncommon for an Oklahoma resident to be Native American (often from multiple tribes), but not be on any tribal roll.

So now let's look at the various parties involved.

Warren:

She'd in fact very much like this to not be a political issue. However, since other people are making it one (and often in clumsy racist ways), she has to directly address it to try to get past it. Probably not going to work, but a person can try.

Her political opponents:

They may or may not know the nuances of Native American citizenship wrt Oklahoma that I went over above, but what they do know is that it doesn't take much work to make this look like a story of someone making a bald-faced-lie to the vast majority of people who have a stereotypical mental image of what a Native American is. This is why they don't necessarily discourage racist taunting of Warren. The more simple and stereotypical the discussion is, the better their case looks.

The Cherokee Nation:

This nation (tribe) is run by elected officials for the benefit of enrolled tribe members. They only get a certain pool of money from which to distribute benefits, so any argument that keeps their rolls from expanding to cover new families is an argument they are likely to be attracted to. For instance, the tribe owned slaves before the Civil War. The federal government has had to force them to add the descendants of those slaves to their rolls twice, because the first time the tribe kicked them right back off the rolls. Just last year this same tribe was arguing in court that accultured Cherokee freedmen descendents shouldn't be considered part of the tribe because they didn't share enough Cherokee "blood" (DNA), while this week they've argued someone with Cherokee DNA but no acculturalization shouldn't be considered Cherokee either. Its possible to claim that's a consistent position and a person ought to have a certain amount of both, but they only seem to bring up whichever argument helps them not add new people to their rolls. This is a very public case, so they could have a legitimate fear that someone would use this same kind of test to sue the tribe for membership. Again, since there are financial benefits to being Cherokee, perhaps keeping the rolls down is what they should be devoting their limited energies to curtailing.

1 - If I can be forgiven a plug here, my sister is an anthropologist working with the Osage Nation documenting how they are currently navigating trying to maintain a national identity in the modern world. The introduction of her book Colonial Entanglement has a really good primer on some of these issues of identity.

2 - With the Osage oil revenues for a while it was so lucrative that white people would trick illiterate Osages into adopting them, and then kill the Osage. The Osages eventually tried to clean up the mess by kicking all adoptees off the rolls (no mater what their culturization). I personally got caught up in that, which is how I can truthfully say that "I was an Osage for a couple of years in the 70's."

T.E.D.

Posted 2018-10-16T02:28:58.133

Reputation: 11 584

4There is no such thing as Cherokee DNA. Native American DNA simply means it can be either North or South American ancestry. – dan-klasson – 2018-10-21T17:36:13.620

Backing up @dan-klasson point, the small amount of common DNA markers between that led to a possible association was compared to that of people from south and central American Nations, who have a more mixture of European and Native American DNA than in the United States. At this little comparison, it's hard to tell if Elizabeth Warren had a commonality with any tribe vs. a European ancestor... additionally, many US tribes do discourage DNA ancestry testing to avoid tribal claims made on the basis of DNA alone, so the ability to make such comparisons has a very low sample size. – hszmv – 2019-05-09T14:43:44.473

Well, the point was that the concept of "blood" the Cherokee have been using to try to exclude the Freedmen amounts to the same thing as arguing for "Cherokee DNA" (DNA = "blood"). Note that the (related) Creek Nation are currently going through this exact same issue as well.

– T.E.D. – 2019-05-09T15:33:41.773

Just to clarify, the "Cherokee DNA" argument in there equating ancestry to DNA to "blood" is entirely mine. I do not believe Warren ever used that phrase. The Cherokee I believe only used it literally to attack the idea. However if the people we are talking about are freedmen, the Cherokee tribe has been all for the idea (but they call it "blood", because that's been the legal term used since before DNA was discovered). – T.E.D. – 2019-05-09T15:48:26.187

20

Are her opponents just trying to catch her in a lie, that she falsely claimed Native American ancestry to try to garner support from that constituency?

No. The claim is that she did so to get better employment opportunities, not for political reasons. Her claim was made well before she entered politics. In addition, there are very few Cherokee in Massachusetts. Voters are generally white, not Native American. And those who are Native American, would generally be from other tribes.

It is an impactful claim because as a Democrat, she is reliant on votes from people who do expect to benefit from employment opportunities offered to people disadvantaged by their racial or ethnic background. Elizabeth Warren already enjoys the "privilege" of being white. She is not disadvantaged by her racial status. As such, if she used false claims about her race to gain employment advantage, she, a person of privilege, did so over others who were disadvantaged.

And there is just the silliness of it. She's obviously white. On average, her share of Native American DNA is lower than that of the typical American. I.e. she is less Native American (even assuming the genetics hold up under a less partisan review) than average. Yet she actually claimed to be Cherokee and thus providing diversity at colleges where she worked. She was listed as a minority employee.

If she's willing to lie for so trivial an advantage, what other lies has she or will she tell?

And if you think that this result proves her claim true, note that her original claim was that she was 1/32nd Native American. That is clearly disproved by the results. The liberal reviewer that she found was only willing to say that it is possible for her to be 1/64th to 1/1024th. This means that the relative that she claimed was a full-blooded Native American was not.

And while there has been a trend to replace Indian with Native American, I hardly see one as better than the other. America is a name given after an Italian explorer. It has nothing to do with the people who were here prior to that. It is no more legitimate a name than Indian, given by another Italian explorer. As a general rule, these are people who identified by tribe not continent.

Brythan

Posted 2018-10-16T02:28:58.133

Reputation: 86 095

Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.

– Sam I am says Reinstate Monica – 2018-10-22T01:18:54.873

1"It is an impactful claim because as a Democrat, she is reliant on votes from people who do expect to benefit from employment opportunities offered to people disadvantaged by their racial or ethnic background" You need references. Not opinions – David M – 2018-10-22T03:28:11.763

3On average, her share of Native American DNA is lower than that of the typical American Source? That claim seems to be incorrect. – Beofett – 2018-10-22T22:55:45.587

1Re "willing to lie": I'm confused, could you clarify if the 1/32 claim preceded the test results? An inaccuracy might well be a mere error rather than an outright lie. (For example: my mother used to believe she descended from the older brother of the fellow who was her actual ancestor, and even obliviously named one of her sons after that older brother.) – agc – 2019-05-10T17:52:10.377

12

Plenty of answers focused on Warren, so I'll address Trump.

The strategy of finding a weakness in an opponent (whether based on fact, superficial, or completely made up) and attaching a nickname is one he's used over and over with great success.

A few examples: the Obama birther issue you mentioned (so far as I know, completely made up), "Crooked Hilary" (based on Clinton name, conspiracies), several personal/superficial attacks, such as "Low Energy Jeb" (Jeb Bush), "Little Marco" (Marco Rubio), etc. I could go on, but there's an entire Wikipedia page dedicated to them.

The case of Warren seems to be one based in fact, though arguably exaggerated and arguably not much of an issue (see other answers). The fact that it's ambiguous (how much Native American is enough to claim? should we care?) plays into Trumps hand as his claims aren't really falsifiable.

The truth is, any adult human is going to have something (especially when you're willing to bend/exaggerate the truth) and Trump understands this, as well as the potential effects given the current political and media culture in America (divided politics + clickbait/outrage headlines).

So is there anything to it? Depends to what extent voters care. Though based on what we've seen from Trump, it's not a stretch to assume that if it wasn't this it would be something else as he seems to have identified Warren as a potential opponent/adversary worthy of attack.

aw04

Posted 2018-10-16T02:28:58.133

Reputation: 281

6

In 2018 America is multiracial ancestral cherry-picking a big deal?

Ancestry inevitably provides DNA.

Parents, guardians or caretakers generally provide various customs, skills, languages, ideas, creeds, religions, and social bonds; also parents may additionally provide some legacy of owned resources, (be it reputation, capital, or property, etc.), which resources may themselves oblige certain responsibilities and duties.

By some narrow usages Heritage has no overlap with Ancestry; broader modern usages of Heritage may imply or encompass Ancestry. Harvard Law School and Warren favor the moderner inclusive usage, Trump favors the older exclusive usage.

In nations with less genetic variety ancestry and heritage are usually quite compatible, but America has both greater genetic variety and an ignorant and often malevolent history of racism. Historically, an exclusive distinction between ancestry and heritage could be of obsessive importance -- DNA dictated whether a person could own things, go into business and become a capitalist, or whether a person could own nothing and legally be unmade into nothing but capital.

Prior to the 20th century patronizing American schools worked to acculturate and "Americanize" Native children, a process very destructive to Native heritage. Mixed ancestry in of itself can interfere with familial heritage on all sides. The innocent child of two adversarial groups can be disinherited and disowned by both sides who each indirectly blame the child for the misdeeds the other side. Bereft of ancestral cultural heritage, such children make their way by adopting various substitutes, usually some combination of synthetic extended families made up from religious, sporting, hobbyist, scholastic, professional, civic, or political memberships. With sufficient substitutes they can even flourish, but as somewhat alienated adults may be prone to peculiar and sentimental notions about their ancestral identity.

Answer: No cherry-picking minority ancestry is not a big deal, because in 2018 American racists are a weakening minority. A candidate's ancestral cherry-picking might be eccentric, disingenuous, or annoying, but it's less obnoxious to exaggerate one's ancestry than it would be to exaggerate present capital to imply business acumen, or to understate inherited capital to the IRS.

agc

Posted 2018-10-16T02:28:58.133

Reputation: 11 325

15The hypocracy of Trump calling someone else out for lying is not lost to me. – Barmar – 2018-10-16T16:19:29.167

6"Why is it a political issue?" - "Answer: No"? It appears to very much be a political issue, no? Whether it SHOULD be one in a perfectly rational world is another question. – janh – 2018-10-16T19:53:38.493

3@Barmar Trump has called so many people out for lying -- just look at how he responded to the state of Hawaii posting Obama's birth certificate -- that it's just more white noise. All he's ever meant when he says "you're lying" is "I want you to be wrong". (Still, though, hypocritical beyond belief.) – Fund Monica's Lawsuit – 2018-10-16T23:01:43.107

@janh, Thanks. Revised to clarify that the "No" applies more to a specific OP sub-question ("Why does any of this matter?") rather than the title question wording. – agc – 2018-10-17T10:44:16.670

2But Elizabeth Warren has pretty much no ancestry or heritage from Native Americans to speak of. If at least one of her parents was a tribe member it would make sense to accuse Trump of being a racist who only cares about DNA. But she has nada, zilch, so why is Trump at blame here? – JonathanReez – 2019-05-09T14:57:43.877

@JonathanReez, Had Trump just said that young Warren was opportunistic and manipulated the system, (i.e. like "being smart" with taxes), there'd be less offense. But in this instance there is baggage... any diminutive reference to an entire nation or race by the name some random historic personage is a vulgar insult first and foremost to the race so disregarded. For example: calling a Chinese waiter, or a non-Chinese waiter, who worked at a Chinese restaurant "Confucius" would be demeaning and offensive.

– agc – 2019-05-09T16:08:55.757

Whether Trump is being offensive over his mocking usage of the word pocahontas is a different topic from why Warren is supposed to be acknowledged as a Native American. – JonathanReez – 2019-05-09T16:56:02.347

@JonathanReez, True, but the present question asks why it's a political issue, rather than just one of many back & forth sallies about which candidate had the more dubious college admission and academic bona fides. Were the language Trump used neutral and respectful, it would not resonate as it does with his often race obsessed base, who've made the insult their beloved meme. – agc – 2019-05-10T00:45:30.680

5

Why is it a political issue? Because identity matters.

Because identity politics is a position the vast majority of people take. To quote:

a tendency for people of a particular religion, race, social background, etc., to form exclusive political alliances, moving away from traditional broad-based party politics.

... and so by asserting one's identity in the political sphere, you essentially declare that a certain people's issues are your issue. It's essentially a shorthand way of saying "Your interests are my interests, so we should work together in solidarity."

American Conservatives frame this in the pejorative and American Liberals frame it in the positive.

... and the reality is everyone is guided by their identity in politics.

Identity defined:

the fact of being who or what a person or thing is

It might seem pedantic, but it matters to define things, because words mean things. So, how do you define "being"? Well, being is tied to experience, and your experiences are more or less defined by your environment (your culture, community, nation, religion, gender) and nature (sex, skin pigmentation, DNA, etc ).

... and so what makes an individual is in part, their identity. It's who they and how they experience the world as the person the are that defines their politics. Because The Personal is Political and because the personal is political, people have to protect those aspects of who they are and assert them.

If someone is denied freedom because of an aspect of their person, their identity then they come to be defined by that identity. Because the greater society is contextualizing their experience in denying those individuals liberties which are granted to greater majority. In short, if you're denied right because of some aspect of your identity, then identity becomes important. Simple as that.

Why is Senator Warren's ancestry a political issue? Because it, to some extent, defines a person's base positions and mindsets.

Final note on this, identity politics has been a LONG tradition in the American political arena.

The BEST example is the necessity of a presidential candidate to talk about their faith or at least say briefly they believe in god. PEW did a poll on this.

A quote from results:

For instance, half of all American adults say it’s important for a president to share their religious beliefs. And more people now say there is “too little” religious discussion by their political leaders (40%) than say there is “too much” (27%).

Half of Americans, believe the president should share their religious beliefs. This is identity politics in a nutshell.

So why is it political? Because the personal is political and as long as the government "gets personal" and decides to support policies that target the personal, then it's always going to get political and that's the heart of identity politics.

ShinEmperor

Posted 2018-10-16T02:28:58.133

Reputation: 1 423

Typo "Because The Personal is Political and because the personal is political": it's not obvious if this is a garbled antimetabole, or merely redundant.

– agc – 2018-10-19T20:56:36.367

3

To build on aw04's answer, it's an issue because Trump made it one.

Trump sees Warren as a political opponent he has chosen to fight. He took up the fight via his standard approach, the personal attack. Warren had claimed Native American heritage; whatever her true ancestry. she does not have an appearance most people would associate with Native American ancestry. Trump saw an opportunity to call her out her claim, and in so doing, challenge her credibility as a political figure. For him, this was both a way to diminish his opponent and deflect negative sentiment away from himself.

Anthony X

Posted 2018-10-16T02:28:58.133

Reputation: 1 013

While other answers are interesting, this is the most direct, to the point answer. Independently, whether I have a 5X great grandfather that was a half breed Sioux has no political potency. – BobE – 2018-10-22T13:57:42.980

3

It's an issue because Warren may have been gaming the very affirmative action programs she espouses, for personal gain.

I say 'may have', because whether or not she actually benefited from this claim is not clear. Harvard and U PA have recently stated that her claim of native American heritage wasn't a factor in her hiring. However, bothy also extolled her alleged minority status publicly when she was hired, so the veracity of their claim of not considering minority status when hiring her can be legitimately questioned.

They sure were proud of Cherokee heritage when they hired her into a prestigious position. Now that this has become an embarrassment, it wasn't a factor.

Undoubtedly, she did benefit from this claim in general, as it appeals to the left leaning leaning electorate who put her in office.

It is quite possible that Warren was simply repeating what she had been told by her mother, and was mistaken. If so, she doesn't seem to have put any effort into finding out her Cherokee ancestry (that doesn't exist), and no effort in connecting with it. Given how her party has attacked black conservatives for 'not being black', that poses a problem. Not only was she not Cherokee, she didn't even show any interest in the subject, other than as a campaign slogan.

The real political issue is one that has dogged several Democratic leaders, most notably Hillary Clinton and Maxine Waters. This is an elitist attitude that leads them to believe they are above the very standards that their constituents support them for. Do as I say, not as I do.

As the economy is showing 4.1% GDP growth right now and unemployment is at record lows, the Democrats can't attack the current administration on the normal issues. Instead, they attack on moral issues.

And that is severely undermined when their leaders are exhibiting less that morally defensible traits.

tj1000

Posted 2018-10-16T02:28:58.133

Reputation: 9 859

What "campaign slogan" are you referring to? – Barmar – 2018-10-22T19:18:43.463

I think this answer starts out reasonably well and is not wholly terrible, but some of the points are unsubstantiated/controversial opinions and IMHO not appropriate for this platform. It could be improved by editing it to a more neutral tone. – None – 2018-10-23T05:29:50.653