Many in the Native American community reacted angrily Monday after Senator Elizabeth Warren released the results of a DNA test showing that she has a distant Native American ancestor.
Warren has long said she is part Native American, prompting mockery from Republicans and President Trump, who nicknamed her “Pocahontas” during the 2016 campaign season. The 2020 presidential hopeful appeared in a short campaign-style video promoting the results of the test, which reportedly show that she is between 1/64th and 1/1,024th Native American, and calling the president a liar for denying her ancestry.
Some Native American Twitter users, however, objected to the idea that a simple DNA test makes a person part of their community.
That's not how this works, that's not how any of this works. Can Warren just stop? I would much rather it said Warren meets with Cherokee women to apologize. This is NOT how you make amends to Natives FYI. #ElizabethWarren https://t.co/rcm18tiLiU
— Emmy Scott (@EmmyNawjoopinga) October 15, 2018
Dear @SenWarren: A DNA test does not make you Native! 🙄 Even if you had a CDIB that would not make you Native! Native identity is more than blood and blood myths. Being Native is about culture, language, history and more! But you don’t have that, stop claiming Native, PERIOD!
— Emilio Reyes 🌐 (@emiliotongva) October 15, 2018
Indigenous Nationhood does not come from a test tube.
It comes from active community involvement.
From an unyielding connection to land.
From your ancestors having sheltered your nation's resistance leader.
From Ceremony, from water, from ancient songs.
It's a responsibility.
— SaltyLilOjibwe (@SaltyLilOjibwe) October 15, 2018
As a Ntv person in academia I cant prove my Ojibwe and Lakotah lineage via DNA tests for scholarships. I have to provide tribal documentation and written proof that I’m connected to my community. @elizabethforma gets to take a DNA test to prove “lineage” & it’s cool tho? 👀💀
— Serena Graves (@serena_graves) October 15, 2018
“That’s not how this works, that’s not how any of this works,” Native American Twitter user Emmy Scott wrote. “Can Warren just stop? I would much rather it said Warren meets with Cherokee women to apologize. This is NOT how you make amends to Natives FYI.”
“Native identity is more than blood and blood myths,” user Emilio Reyes wrote. “Being Native is about culture, language, history and more! But you don’t have that, stop claiming Native, PERIOD!”
Dr. Adrienne Keene, a Cherokee Nation member and Ethnic Studies professor at Brown University, took issue with a point in Warren’s video where officials from the schools the senator taught at denied ethnicity was a factor in her hiring.
“My tribal citizenship was a factor in my hiring. As it should be,” wrote Keene. “I represent my nation & Native ppls in this space & we wouldn’t have a voice otherwise. But I’m also a great teacher.”
Kim TallBear, a professor of Indigenous Studies at the University of Alberta, called Warren’s move a “strike against tribal sovereignty” in a statement.
— Kim TallBear (@KimTallBear) October 15, 2018
“She continues to defend her ancestry claims as important despite her historical record of refusing to meet with Cherokee Nation community members who challenge her claims,” TallBear said. “This shows that she focuses on and actually privileges DNA company definitions in this debate, which are ultimately settler-colonial definitions of who is Indigenous.”
Some Native Americans also came to Warren’s defense, saying she is not claiming tribal membership, only distant ancestry.
“Elizabeth Warren has stood up against Trump from day 1,” Native American writer Ruth Hopkins said on Twitter. “I will support Warren as long as she fights for my People.”
Warren is not claiming tribal membership. Rather, distant descendancy. This is her truth. She has shown that she is not fraud in that she has not used Native heritage to gain employment. Time to put down the pitchforks. I will support Warren as long as she fights for my People.
— Ruth H. Hopkins (@RuthHHopkins) October 15, 2018
Update 7:07p.m.: Cherokee Nation secretary of state Chuck Hoskin Jr. issued a statement Monday criticizing Warren for misrepresenting the effectiveness of DNA tests in corroborating claims of Native American ancestry.
A DNA test is useless to determine tribal citizenship. Current DNA tests do not even distinguish whether a person’s ancestors were indigenous to North or South America. 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. Using a DNA test to lay claim to any connection to the Cherokee Nation or any tribal nation, even vaguely, is inappropriate and wrong. 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 prove. Senator Warren is undermining tribal interests with her continued claims of tribal heritage.”