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The Campaign Spot

Election-driven news and views . . . by Jim Geraghty.

Elizabeth Warren, Native American?



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I doubt this will move many votes in the Massachusetts Senate race, but it does illustrate how pursuit of “diversity” in higher education can drive institutions to make rather implausible claims:

Elizabeth Warren’s avowed Native American heritage — which the candidate rarely if ever discusses on the campaign trail — was once touted by embattled Harvard Law School officials who cited her claim as proof of their faculty’s diversity.

Warren’s claim, which surfaced yesterday after a Herald inquiry, put the candidate in an awkward position as campaign aides last night scrambled but failed to produce documents proving her family lineage. Aides said the tales of Warren’s Cherokee and Delaware tribe ancestors have been passed down through family lore.

. . . Fried said he learned about Warren’s Cherokee and Delaware background later when he found a picture of Warren’s mother and asked her about it. Both Warren’s grandparents on her mother’s side had Native American lineage, her campaign said yesterday.

(Warren’s birth surname is Herring, which is an Anglo-Saxon name.)

Thankfully, it appears that some recognize the ludicrousness of claiming minority status based upon the identity of one’s great-grandparents:

Sarah Marston, the current spokeswoman at Harvard Law School, said the school has had a change of heart when it comes to discussing Warren’s heritiage.

“The Law School’s current policy is to refrain from publicly commenting about the race or ethnicity of individual faculty members,” Marston said in a statement.

Back in 2005, NR’s John J. Miller took a look at the phenomenon of “fake Indians” after Ward Churchill grabbed the public spotlight:

Between 1960 and 2000, the number of Americans claiming Indian ancestry on their census forms jumped by a factor of six. Neither birthrates nor counting methodologies can account for this explosive growth. Instead, the phenomenon arises in large part from the increasingly idealistic place Indians occupy in the popular imagination. Much of it is based on harmless sentiment mixed into a hash of unverifiable family legends and wishful thinking among folks who hang dreamcatchers from their rearview mirrors. But for a distinct subset, it’s all about personal profit. They’re professional imposters who have built entire careers by putting the sham into shaman.

Of course, there’s nothing new about white political figures attempting to spotlight a distant tie to a Native American ancestor. Native American author Sherman Alexie shared this anecdote:

When President Clinton was still in the White House in 1998, he invited Alexie and a small group of others to take part in a televised “Dialogue on Race” forum. “He said, ‘Sherman, before I was president, the only thing I knew about Indians was that my grandmother was part Cherokee.’”

“Later on, I was asked if Indians were part of the national dialogue on race. I said ‘No, the only time white folks talk to me about Indians is when they tell me their grandmothers were part Cherokee.’ As the show wore on, I thought ‘Oh, my God, I gave the president s*** — the president!’ Afterwards I was scared and tried to hide — and he came across to me and grabbed me by the shoulder and leaned in close to me and said, ‘Sherman, you’re f***ing funny!’”


Tags: Elizabeth Warren


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