We Should Denounce the Conduct of Harvard and Elizabeth Warren

Margo (Kickingbird) DeLaune & Cole R. DeLaune

As an enrolled member of the Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma, 1981 alumna of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, veteran scholastic administrator, and lifelong Democrat, I am profoundly disturbed by the emergence of recent details concerning Harvard and one of its law school’s senior faculty members, Massachusetts senate candidate Elizabeth Warren. Over the course of the past month, facts have come to attention that leave little doubt that the HLS bureaucracy and Professor Warren perpetrated nothing less than ethnic fraud. The development of this saga has elicited a disappointing response from all parties involved and reflects not just a single offense of intellectual dishonesty but, rather, a broader and systemic racial masquerade rooted in egregious insensitivity. Media commentary from both polarities has failed to articulate the troubling implications involved in the deceit in which Harvard Law and one of its most prominent contemporary staffers have engaged for over a decade. I urge fellow Native alumni of Harvard, as well as all American Indians presently associated with any of the University’s schools, to denounce the conduct of HLS and Professor Warren.

The spectacle that has engulfed the contest between the liberal folk heroine and Senator Scott Brown illuminates a willful perversion and debasement of equal opportunity ideals, as well as a chance to see elements of critical race theory writ large.

Of course, abstractions favor the Warren camp. After all, what standards can arbitrate cultural authenticity? To parse the politics of self-determination is, at cursory glance, a presumptuous business at best, and Charles Fried, the faculty member who recruited Warren to Harvard, contends that claims to minority status played no part in her hiring.

Ultimately, however, whether the Professor formally obtained her employment in Cambridge thanks to affirmative action is immaterial. An unethical endeavor does not have to succeed in its objectives in order to warrant objection. Similarly, qualification does not automatically legitimize malfeasance.

Warren has predicated her bid for elected office on an advocacy for the disenfranchised, the proverbial “99 percent.” Consequently, her conduct vis-à-vis a historically marginalized Native community is fundamentally pertinent to the ideological consistency of her campaign platform.

Despite initial reports by news outlets that a marriage certificate discovered by New England genealogists pointed to a Cherokee great-great-great grandmother, both the Boston Globe and the New England Historic and Genealogical Society recently conceded that no proof has been discovered to substantiate the existence of that document. Additionally, ReJeania Zmek, the Logan County Clerk, explained that Oklahoma only began maintaining marriage applications around 1950, the year after Warren herself was born.

Cole DeLaune

Although the academic originally asserted that she never advertised her theoretical American Indian ties to Harvard, the school bureaucracy was familiar with her background by 1996-1998, when Harvard Law spokesman Mike Chimura referred to Warren as a Native American in separate articles about women and minority HLS faculty members published by the Harvard Crimson and the Fordham Law Review. Warren contends that she had been unaware of Chimura’s promotion of her lineage, but declared that she was “proud” of her roots. In essence, then, she is effectively endorsing Harvard’s decision to publicize her as a representation of diversity, and is thus contributing to the perpetuation of environmental homogeneity and an institutionalized strain of racial posturing.

On Friday, the Boston Globe reported:

"...for at least six straight years during Warren’s tenure, Harvard University reported in federally mandated diversity statistics that it had a Native American woman in its senior ranks at the law school. According to both Harvard officials and federal guidelines, those statistics are almost always based on the way employees describe themselves."

In addition, both Harvard’s guidelines and federal regulations for the statistics lay out a specific definition of Native American that Warren does not meet.

The article also notes that Harvard Law claimed a single Native American professor in a 2011 diversity survey based on ethnic self-identification.

What’s so confounding about the efforts of the Warren camp to deflect attention from these realities is that a consideration of the mainstream progressive ethos she publicly embraces fails to support her actions. Rather, the central question here is one of intent: why did Professor Warren list herself as a minority in the AALS directories and in federal compliance statistics when the implicit purpose of the opportunity to ethnically self-identify in a professional context is a function of equal opportunity aspirations? If we lived in a color-blind America, questions of race would not appear on scholastic and employment paperwork because they would be irrelevant; as it is, their presence is not an invitation for entertainment and networking. A seasoned veteran of academia in her late thirties would presumably recognize as much.

If one proceeds from the premise that the objective of affirmative action is to promote mosaics of perspective as didactic apparatuses in and of themselves, then Warren is not an individual who can refer to a personal history defined by either Native culture or Native genetics. It is wonderful that her "family lore" aspires to inclusiveness with its nods to "high cheekbones" but to argue that such vaguely defined allusions are of similar value in shaping a unique world view as regular exposure to and celebration of specific custom, doctrine, and ideology, would be patently false. And if white privilege exists, as numerous proponents of liberalism contend, then it has to be aesthetic as well as cultural. Warren's experience has, by and large, been that of a Caucasian female American. And so Warren’s motivation in emphasizing a claim to Native lineage becomes a central issue in regard to her credibility.

A not-insignificant number of her defenders have attempted to double down by maintaining that most Oklahomans likely have at least a minute amount of Indian DNA. What a poetic illustration of the legacy of colonialism: first, the European entitlement to Native territories, and, now, white entitlement to Native cultural identity sans the conditions that confer meaning on that identity. In this respect, Warren has arguably benefited from pervasive misconceptions about Indians and a propensity of mainstream America to romanticize them. Perhaps as a result of white guilt, it is an acceptable, even trendy, practice among stalwart Warren supporters in Internet forum dialogues to sympathetically recall their own ambiguous tales of indigenous ancestors and then to admit that they themselves have no proof but muddied familial oral narratives. After all, anyone who has listened to their aunt wax envious about cheekbones can’t be ignorant about the nuances informing tribal politics, ceremonies, and traditions, or about the unique obstacles with which many Natives grapple each day: third-world living standards on reservations; endemic alcoholism and poverty; a situational dearth of legal recourse due to jurisdictional complexities; an absence of opportunity for educational or economic betterment.

Perhaps, in the end, we should appreciate Professor Warren for revealing institutionalized deficiencies at our alma mater that may have otherwise remained unexamined. However, we should nevertheless hold her accountable for the damage she has wrought—by either crassly capitalizing on the plight of the American Indian or indulging in the fetishization of a frequently caricaturized minority group. We ask the fellow Native alumni of Harvard, as well as the University’s current Native students and staffers, to join in supporting Senator Brown. Because when Warren directly facilitates a corruption of equal opportunity philosophy and then disingenuously dismisses valid concerns about her behavior as attacks against her family, she demeans the bravery of our Native forebears who fought so valiantly to resist assimilation and to preserve our various ways of life.

Educated at Darmouth College and Columbia University in the City of New York, Cole DeLaune is a native of Oklahoma and Tennessee. He currently resides in Atlanta, and has contributed editorial content to Vogue and Elle, among other publications. He is a member of the Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma.

Margo (Kickingbird) DeLaune is a longtime professional veteran of the education arena. She is an alumna of Franklin & Marshall College and the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Of Kiowa and Pottawatomie descent, she is presently a resident of Georgia and Oklahoma.

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mandrake's picture
Remind me again about all the good things Democrats have done for the Indian people. Warren did nothing BUT game the system. Presumably, the others you mentioned have some proof of their status. Maybe not. But what kind of a stupid excuse is "We never challenged so-and-so, why should we care about Warren"? She would otherwise be nothing more than another of the thousands of undistinguished academics that populate this country. Open your eyes!
quinzy's picture
Elizabeth Warren typifies these Indians below. If you get a chance, visit Harvard, Yale, Princeton and other elite schools. Then visit their Native American programs. Then visit their medical schools. When you see their Indians, you see whites, whites and whites. Whites with Indian status but no Indian culture. Whites with Indian status and married to whites. Whites with Indian status but no Indian involvement. Whites with Indian status but no connection to any Indian community. Whites with Indian status but no one speaking any Indian languages. Whites with Indian status but no one living on or near reservations. Whites with Indian status but nothing Indian about them. Even if you occasionally see a brown-skinned Indian with long hair, that person will be married to a Caucasian woman, living in a Caucasian community, thinking like a Caucasian - again nothing Indian about how they currently live either. Their medical students with Indian statuses look white, act white, sound white, think white, are treated as white, are mistaken for whites. After they graduate with medical degrees, they join the mainstream community like other white doctors serving other whites in American suburbia. Their benefit to skins on reservations: ZERO! But they all got in despite their poor scores because some great, great, great, great ancestor was a Cherokee or some other Indian.
thechief's picture
I agree. My undergrad life was like that. The majority of the native americans were half breeds that were raised by their white mothers. Most of them never met their dad other than saying they went to a powwow or two. They bought into all the colonialism rhetoric that academics like to talk about without ever living on a reservation. I thought it was funny when one of our "indian" professors was getting all the students fired up about indian mascots when one of the rez indian students walked in wearing a Cleveland Indians jersey and hat. When ever we spoke about skin color the light skinned Indians would get defensive and go back to their colonialism rhetoric(i am 1/256 cherokee because european colonizers forced my people assimilate to their ways but my heart is cherokee). When I was in grad school I was the only native in business school so I didn't have to deal with any of the bs of what happens to natives at universities.
hontasfarmer's picture
My own personal situation confounds your criteria. Hontas is my legal first name and has been since I was born. I am named after my father and grandfather. Grandpa was named by his grandmother who was from directly from Virginia. The groups of Indians she would have came from are not federally recognized so no enrollment, and no CDIB to be had there. My fathers mothers family situation was complicated as was that of her tribe and band(s). Her mother, one of my great grandmothers lived at a time when the Potawatomi in Kansas were breaking into the Prairie Band and the Citizen band. It's not clear to me to which ggrand ma hence grandma belonged. To top it all off grandma's Birth cert is no where to be found. She died in 1953. That BC would answer many questions. So, no enrollment and no CDIB there. I live with this first name, very Indian. This last name of English origin but very common for an Indian. This face even given my Afro style hair is very Indian. Folks on the street here think I am hispanic or something. Yet according to the dogma of papers and enrollment... I am not an Indian? Yet if I was actually hispanic I would be? What am I then not black and white people accept mixed race people among them why not you? Ya gotta give it to the black race. They accept a person has black ancestry practically as a given. Heck, my 9x maternal great grandma was German and no German has ever asked for my papers. They'll have a beer, a brat with me and let me dance a polka. Apparently if I show up to a powwow and you have your way I need a (federal) tribal ID and a CDIB to enjoy some frybread and dance at a powwow. Think about that, maybe they learned something the hard way about racial purity. (Or they liked uncle Art's music)
rezzdog's picture
Quinzy and Chief and the rest of the torch bearing pitch fork mob. You're angry with whites with Indian status when the real issue is your Tribe's/Nation's membership/citizenship requirements. Your real problem is you cannot mobilize other NDN's in your nation to do something about it. You can't point to the BIA or any fed agency for a lack of interest on the tribal people's level. And, the longer you wait to fix it, the harder it is to fix it. The issue is not how people look, how people live or what people believe. The issue is you are failing to do something effective about it besides talk and complain. You are not winning any converts with your angry rhetoric, and your choir is thinning quickly.
quinzy's picture
Rezdog, the problem is with the CNO - I am not Cherokee and not part of the CNO, so I cannot mobilize CNO citizens to change their membership requirements. That points to YOUR failure as the media, not chief's or mine. And why do you get mad every time anyone - anyone - talks bad about white Indians? Are you married to a white Indian by any chance? Do you look as white as a ghost? Why do you always ally with white Indians and attack readers who make comments on ICTMN? When you attack readers, you look unprofessional man!
thechief's picture
I think you missed my point. I don't think natives at the university level are in touch with goes on in the native community. Something like this discussion is a non-discussion on at the tribal government level. We all know what level of "blood quantum" you need to be tribal member. If you want to change it you can use the appropriate democratic process. I'm enrolled in a tribe in the southwest and generally speaking we don't have this problem of 1/256 indians trying to jump our rolls. If anything we have quarter bloods that don't know who their dad is because their mother didn't know who the father was fighting for enrollment. So, on the internet this maybe an issue but in the real world I don't think its that big of a deal. Elizabeth Warren would look kind of ridiculous saying she is Tohono O'odham or White Mountain Apache. As far as winning converts I am for a taxation system for tribal members. If you want to be a tribal member of my tribe pay 10% of your wages to the government. I could care less what you look like as long as you pay. We need all the help we can get and gaming is going to end eventually.
rezzdog's picture
“Quinzy, my comments still stand. As far as I can tell you haven’t written anything to refute them. And as far as attempting to make what can only be seen as personal insults and tagging me as a collaborator, and casting what in your eyes would be a slur towards my wife, well, that’s just plain wrong (and a perfect example of race baiting in case you were scratching your head wondering what that exactly looks like). If my wife were white, would she be insulted by your attitude? I’m not sure. As a skin, is she? I’ll have to ask. Some slurs can be worn proudly, as most skins and members of the black community can attest. Race baiting is a distraction to real dialogue. You harp on white people and white indians in response to the Kickingbird-Delaune column, while that is an issue to some, your racism blocks your sight from the author's real point, which is, they want people (natives and non-natives in MA.) to vote for Brown because Warren is a fraud, basically. I thought people would jump all over that. Why would any Native (full blood or not) who is grounded in their culture, identity and relations with their people and their political standing as sovereigns ever bother with the American people's election process at all? This goes for Warren too. If one considers themselves a sovereign native person, why compromise that? So, you can see that identity goes beyond race. A great deal of identity is based on what one does and how one acts. Voting in American elections is the act of an American citizen, not an act of a Mohawk (like me and my wife) or Kiowa, or Cherokee, or name your favorite nation. One does not see a French citizen from Paris voting in America's elections. Congress bestowing U.S. citizenship is an Act that was and is meant to confuse our sense of Nationalism and to usurp the abilities of Tribal governments and organizations to take care of their own people. Yes, the federal teat is wrapped in the stars and stripes. The Kickingbird-Delaune belief in the American political system does not make the Deluane's "white Indians" it makes them simply confused Kiowa's. Are they Kiowa or are they Americans. One can fix confused, hell, one can even fix racist attitudes. I just don't see how running through the electronic streets with pitch forks and torches looking for whitey contributes to the serious discussions we need to be having about ourselves and defining what we believe as distinct peoples in a political sense. Race-baiting takes away from much larger fish we have for the frying pan. Rezzdog
quinzy's picture
You again missed the point rezdog. You accuse me of racism but I would be the first to agree to accepting whites with no "Indian blood" as full-fledged Indians if they become part of our community. I think Indian nations should accept whites, blacks, everybody as citizens - but they should live with us on reservations. If you leave the reservation, you should stop being Indian, whether you are a "full blood" or anything else. On the other hand, if you live on a reservation, you should be considered an Indian, whether you are white or pink or blue or black. As always, rezdog, your blind devotion to white causes and your Americanism is urging you to scream racism and smother debates. By the way, I fully agree with you when you say "One does not see a French citizen from Paris voting in America’s elections" and I don't vote in America's elections. I will go one step further. I don't think skins should fight for America's wars either. You claim to be a veteran and sovereign at the same time. How can you fight for a foreign cause? I don't see Chinese soldiers serving in the Swedish military?
m8lsem's picture
My own people first encountered the Euro invaders about 390 years ago, a little sooner for the Narragansett, a little later for the Abenaki. They gave us musket and cannon balls travelling at 'operational speed', instead of leaving us with remnants of land for a reservation. What others encountered in the latter half of the 1800's we encountered in the 1600's and 1700's. Then those of us in Vermont and visiting relatives from across one of the borders, encountered surgical sterilization as a 'penalty' for being an Indian in a hospital for some other reason, under the Vermont Eugenics Law until Vermont was embarrassed out of it by the Nazis in WW II. I remember self-identifying as Indian got me beaten up on the playground by a group in elementary school. That taught me to hide myself a while. My Dad was in the Army at the time, and when he got home moved me to another school. Is it any surprise, really, that an Eastern Indian may present him or herself rather differently than in the West? When the Nez Perce War, which was sort of the last Indian War, becomes 300 years ago, you can expect Western Indians to present differently than you do today. I hope my great-great grandchildren won't make it difficult for any of you .