Cherokee Nation’s Response to Elizabeth Warren

Cherokee Nation's Response to Elizabeth WarrenThere is some question as to whether Elizabeth Warren should have been pulled into a pissing contest with Donald Trump. After all, the man does nothing but piss. And there is no winning an argument with a man who habitually lies and who won’t even admit wrongdoing when there is video evidence. For example, Trump offered to donate a million dollars if Warren took a DNA test and it showed she was “an Indian.”[1] When she did so, Trump claimed he never made the offer.

But let’s cut through all the nonsense. The facts are clear. Trump made an offer to Warren. She accepted it and proved she was right. And he has since had a number of excuses for why he doesn’t need to follow through on his promise. I have little doubt that the million dollars does matter to him — even though it isn’t much compared to all the corrupt money he has acquired while being president. But the bigger issue is that Trump will never admit to being wrong. And with the help of the Republican establishment’s mendaciousness and the Republican base’s motivated gullibility, he doesn’t need to.

The Cherokee Nation Responds

What most concerns me is the response from the Cherokee Nation. They have been engaged in some major false equivalence. In addition to it being morally wrong, it is bad politics. Do they really think that knit-picking a Democrat who is broadly supportive of their concerns will translate to support from Trump and the rest of the Republican Party? Although it isn’t a subject of particular concern to the Cherokee Nation, look at how the Republicans has responded to the concerns of Native Americans regarding the Keystone XL pipeline.

I’m not saying that the Cherokee Nation should just accept that their allies are in the Democratic Party and so they should shut up. But in this case, leaders of the tribe seem to be going out of their way to find offense when there really was none. And we know this because their complaints have been about things that Elizabeth Warren never did. For example, Cherokee Nation Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin was interviewed on NPR.

Determining Who Is A Cherokee Is More Than DNA, Hoskin Says (16 Oct 2018)

Tribal Identity Isn’t Determined by DNA

The complaints circle around what it means to be Cherokee. And Hoskin is right — not just about Cherokees but about any group. The problem is, Warren’s argument with Trump — and the release of her DNA test results — have nothing to do with her being Cherokee.

Chuck HoskinThis whole thing started when she first ran for Senate in 2012. She was challenging Scott Brown, who made a big deal about it. And his supporters began calling her Pocahontas. Warren’s only claim has even been that according to her family members, they had a Native American ancestor. This is pretty common. Most families have one or more such stories. “Thomas Jefferson was the brother of our great-great-…-grandfather.” Or whatever.

What’s more, her listing herself as part Native American while in college is hardly cultural appropriation. I listed myself as Portuguese, and I certainly have no cultural connection to even the local Portuguese community. There certainly is some question about whether people should do this. But the issue is a mess and Warren certainly shouldn’t be held accountable for the fact that our society has (and probably will) never come to terms with its continued history of racism.

Warren Isn’t Claiming to Be a Tribal Member

Regardless, this is not the issue that Cherokee Nation leaders have been complaining about. They have been complaining about the DNA test. And the DNA test was taken to answer one question: did Elizabeth Warren have a Native American ancestor. And the results of the test indicate that she did, in fact, have an ancestor “living around the mid-1800s, which is similar to Warren family lore.”

The result of this attack on Warren has been that the release of her DNA test results is reported as being as bad or worse than Trump’s vile and loud racist comments. In fact, as you will see in the NPR interview above, Chuck Hoskin has no comment about Donald Trump’s racist bullying of Warren that caused her to release the results in the first place.

Elizabeth Warren Makes the Cherokee Case

And in the video that Elizabeth Warren released, she acknowledges all the points that Hoskin makes about DNA not being an indicator of tribal identity. Yet Warren’s video (which must have taken some time to produce) was released a day before Hoskin’s interview.

Yet if you do a Google search on “warren cherokee,” you will find article after article about how angry the Cherokee Nation is at Warren. And it is all about stuff that she did not do. It is all presented as explaining to Warren things that she clearly knows based on her video.

I really hate this because it allows Republicans to run around spreading lies — including their favorite lie that Democrats are the real racists. And I’m really unclear what the Cherokee Nation gets out of all this. Yes, it was an opportunity to educate the public. But it didn’t provide any more information than Warren’s video. And the Cherokee Nation could have educated the public without the false equivalence, which is all most people will take away from this debacle.


Elizabeth Warren’s Family Story (15 Oct 2018)

[1] Trump’s full statement was, “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.” A DNA test can’t actually prove that one is a Native American in any scientific sense. Race is not a scientific thing. But in this context, Trump can mean nothing other than that she was telling the truth about having a Native American ancestor. As for the claim that she has less Native American DNA than the average American, that is completely false.

3 replies on “Cherokee Nation’s Response to Elizabeth Warren”

  1. James Fillmore says:

    I agree that the Cherokee spokespeople missed a major educational opportunity.

    The ongoing legacy of oppression in America is not a matter of “blood.” It’s a matter of what you look like, where your Zip code is, how you talk and dress and work and even cook. And the simple truth is most “white” people, regardless of what their great-grandparents may have endured, do not face that kind of oppression now.

    So claiming “my distant relative X was minority Y” does not mean you have any clue what that community has to struggle with today. Charlie Pierce referred to a Lakota writer, Simon Moya-Smith, who made this point excellently: I am a Native American. I have some questions for Elizabeth Warren.

    Moya-Smith loves Warren’s record fighting financial crooks (so do I) but gives her a grade of “F” when it comes to fighting for Native Americans. He’s not wrong. Unfortunately, when it comes to ignoring Native communities, Warren has 99 Senate peers.

    If the primaries were held today, though, she’d get my vote.

    I think she terrifies the GOP. Everybody runs against the Big Banks nowadays (even Trump did), but for most of them, it seems like a pose. Warren has a record on it. If this business doesn’t stop her, she’s going to be very popular when more people learn about that record. (If this business does stop her, she shouldn’t be running — this is nothing compared to what the GOP will unleash later.)

    Gotta hand it to Republicans, though. Defaming Warren AND feeding white racist paranoia that brown-ish people get privileged affirmative-action treatment, all at once! Well played, my enemies. Well played.

    And I think Warren can patch things up with the Cherokee Nation. It might take some doing, but that wouldn’t be a bad thing. We’ve never had a presidential candidate talk about what they learned in humility from listening more to Native voters. Who suffer from the worst income inequality and are the toughest environmental defenders, so now you’re talking about those issues as well.

    BTW, I thought it was an excellent video. Maybe could have cut some time from the geneticist’s reveal, that’s good documentary-film style but bad campaign-ad style.

    • Frank Moraes says:

      I agree with everything you’ve written. What I think bugs me about all of this is not so much that the Cherokee Nation is wrong. My problem is the false-equivalence. Warren does, as you indicate, have the typical disregard of Native American rights and needs. But the Republican Party is actively trying to stop all Native Americans from voting in North Dakota. That’s who the Republicans are. It’s annoying that a big deal is made out of Warren being a little clueless with the direct attacks from the Republicans. It isn’t that much different from equating the genocide of Andrew Jackson with the paternalism of Mary Bonney. So that’s my problem.

      It’s interesting. If a Republican had suffered from what Warren has, it would make them extremely antagonistic toward Native Americans. But this whole episode will probably result in Warren being more attentive to Native American concerns. So in that way, it is good. But at the same time, it is a reason not to dump all over her.

      • James Fillmore says:

        There might be some worry about the recent popularity of mail-order DNA testing, raising concerns that faraway individuals could make a legal challenge against how tribal membership is established. If this is the worry it’s quite serious — such a case might endanger what meager assistance we give to struggling Native communities. Particularly given the current makeup of our court judgeships.

        (Incidentally, this issue with “who qualifies” would come into play with African-American reparations, too. Yet another reason the idea should be discussed more often; a lot of details would need to be figured out.)

        If that wasn’t the primary consideration in making the statement, it really could have been better written.

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