It looks like Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., is going for it.
She is actually sticking to her extremely tenuous claim to Cherokee Indian heritage, even after receiving a harsh rebuke from the Cherokee Nation itself.
I thought she would have apologized by now for her disastrous and insulting DNA stunt. It was supposed to vindicate her claim to Native American ancestry. It was supposed to be a slam-dunk response to criticism she tried to benefit undeservedly from claiming minority status when she taught at Harvard Law School and the University of Pennsylvania. The test, which she released Monday to great media fanfare, vindicates nothing.
It’s Friday and it doesn’t look like an apology will be coming any time soon.
You'd think in this age of "cultural appropriation" and the like that a white, Democratic U.S. senator would be more careful. But you’d be wrong. Absurdly enough, the senator has at least one willing supporter in the world of politics and punditry to help push back on the Cherokee Nation's criticism.
“[I]n terms of the Cherokee Nation’s statement, I found that to be ridiculous. … I also think that the Cherokee Nation’s response was problematic because it actually ignores the fact that DNA testing historically has been used to exclude black natives from tribal affiliation,” MSNBC contributor and SiriusXM Director of Progressive Programming Zerlina Maxwell said this week.
“And so, that history has been completely lost in this entire conversation, and that’s potentially very unfortunate,” she added. Ah – so now Warren is black as well?
Warren’s office also tweeted this week after critics rightly noted her DNA test raised more questions than it answered, “DNA & family history has nothing to do with tribal affiliation or citizenship, which is determined only – only – by Tribal Nations. I respect the distinction, & don't list myself as Native in the Senate.”
Just so we’re all on the same page: Warren’s DNA test shows she is maybe six or ten generations removed from having any ties to Native American ancestry, if she has any at all. That would make her anywhere between 1/64th or 1/1,024th Native American.
The degree to which Warren is removed from having any Cherokee heritage depends on whether her great-great-great-great-grandmother was a Native American. But the DNA test doesn’t actually say. Neither does Warren. Also, the study wasn’t based on comparisons with actual Native American DNA from within the actual United States, which makes it dubious anyway.
Knowing what we know now, it makes Warren’s oft-repeated claim that her parents were forced to elope because her father’s family objected to her mother’s supposed Cherokee and Delaware ancestry look … not good. That’s a hell of a story for someone who is at most 1/64th Cherokee Indian to tell.
The Cherokee Nation seems to think so.
"Current DNA tests do not even distinguish whether a person’s ancestors were indigenous to North or South America," the tribe wrote. "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,” Cherokee Nation Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr. said this week in a statement.
He added, “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 proven. Sen. Warren is undermining tribal interests with her continued claims of tribal heritage.”
But remember: It's this statement that's ridiculous, not Warren's highly doubtful claim to Native American ancestry, at least according to Maxwell.
“Identity politics is generally goofy and often trivial, but this is no trivial thing: The Cherokee Nation is a separate sovereign nation, with the rights and dignity that implies,” National Review’s Kevin Williamson writes. “It deserves to be treated with respect, not used as a prop by an ambitious low-rent hustler from Oklahoma.”
The press talks a lot about Trump's unprecedented brazenness. For the most part, the talk is correct. But I haven't seen anything as brazen as a white senator from Massachusetts clinging to a farcical claim of shared heritage with a marginalized people, even as she disregards a rebuke from the same marginalized people. Even Trump hasn’t attempted anything like that.