More than 200 Cherokees and other Native Americans sent a letter to Senator Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.) urging her to issue a public apology after “vague and inadequate” past steps to apologize for her claims of Cherokee ancestry.
“Your history of false claims to American Indian identity and the defense of these claims with a highly publicized DNA test continue to dog your political career,” the letter reads. “For Native Americans, this moment is more than an annoyance; it represents the most public debate about our identity in a generation.”
The letter cites reporting detailing how white people have scammed more than $800 million in no-bid federal contracts intended to support minority business owners by falsely claiming Native American and other minority heritages. The scammers routinely cite family legacy and the results of commerical DNA tests to substantiate their claims, as Warren did throughout her career. In light of those similarities, the letter asks for Warren to publicly denounce her family story of Native ancestry.
“When you still defend yourself by stating you believed what you heard growing up, you set a harmful example for these white people stealing Native identity and resources with stories very similar to your own,” the letter states.
Warren claimed to have Cherokee heritage for many years, which critics have charged allowed her to rise in academia before she entered politics. After withering criticism from President Trump, Warren released an infamous DNA test — which she quietly deleted evidence of a year later — showing that she was between 1/64th and 1/1024th Native American.
The Massachusetts Democrat took widespread criticism from Native Americans in the aftermath of her DNA test, and last February she apologized to the Cherokee Nation for publicizing her results.
“I am sorry for harm I have caused. I have listened and I have learned a lot, and I am grateful for the many conversations that we have had together,” Warren told the Native American Issues Forum in Sioux City, Iowa, in August.
Warren responded to the letter on Tuesday night by reiterating her apologies for promoting herself as Native American, but distanced herself from the letter’s main criticism by saying “my situation differs from these cases because I never benefited financially or professionally” from her claims.
In response, three of the authors of the original letter told the Los Angeles Times that they were disappointed Warren did not directly address her family story.
“We hope that after further dialogue with the campaign, Warren will bravely and publicly tell the truth about her family,” they said in an email.