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Of Right Wings and Indians: Warren Staff Circles Their Wagons

Cole R. DeLaune
6/21/12

Is there a doctor in the house?

No?

Well, somebody telephone the paramedics because Elizabeth Warren's already demonstrably impaired capacity to differentiate fact from fiction just devolved to 5150 proportions.

To paraphrase Sonny and Cher, the beat (of pseudologia fantastica that is) goes on, and, in the interests of being factual and accurate, misinformation disseminated on Tuesday evening by Warren campaign spokeswoman Alethea Harney necessitates clarification and correction. Fortunately, four Cherokee women are presently gilding the mean streets of Boston in an effort to inject just those elements into a Senate contest that has thus far highlighted a dearth of both. Led by Twila Barnes, the quartet includes members of each of the three federally recognized Cherokee tribes and entered the New England metropolis with the stated objective of establishing an open dialogue about Warren's exhaustively reported and dubious claims to Native ancestry.

Although Warren has contended in recent weeks that, "My Native American heritage is part of who I am, I'm proud of it," she welcomed Barnes and company (evidently not the variety of American Indian to whom she was referring when she explained her history of ethnic self-identification as attributable to a hope that "something might happen with people who are like I am") by dispatching Harney to mischaracterize the Native perspective uncomfortable with the professor's response to this issue over the course of the past six weeks as the precipitate of right-wing extremism. In their disingenuous generalizations, Warren and the Massachusetts Democratic Party (the communications director of which, one Mr. Kevin Franck, dismissed the Native protestors at the party’s state convention earlier this month as "rabble-rousers" motivated by a desire "to draw attention to themselves") are effectively denying any agency to her indigenous opponents in this debate by dishonestly positioning them narratively as the cravenly self-exploitative or inadvertently dimwitted agents of the GOP. And this is the populist Joan of Arc who will most capably represent a spectrum of ideologies and advocate for the interests of the oppressed with respect to both locally and nationally repercussive legislation in the upper chamber of Congress?

If the Warren campaign has any sources of evidentiary support to substantiate their dangerous implication that Ms. Barnes and her cohorts rely on the financial largesse of a Republican "extremist," it bears a civic responsibility to disclose them. The views expressed in the conservative new media that has reported on the professor's embarrassing pattern of evasions are, like those of any journalistic outlet, entirely the prerogative of each particular website, and anyone with the most elementary facility for deductive reasoning understands that a reply to a request for further comment from a news apparatus does not constitute a collaborative public relations strategy.

It is unsurprising that Professor Warren has elected to distort the truth once again, as she has done nothing but underscore an, at best, fragile relationship with objective reality and conventionally accepted codes of ethical conduct since the Boston Herald, a paper unaffiliated with either Massachusetts Senate candidate, first illuminated the details of her extensive history of fabulist propensities, but, in accusing Indians appalled by her behavior of conspiracy with the Republican establishment, she is enthusiastically embracing an escalation to abject falsities.

If any degree of idealism permitted the foursome of CNO, UKB, and EBC citizens currently in Boston to believe that Warren earnestly aspired to cultivate a kinship with the Cherokee people or to acknowledge a traditionally invisible community, they can derive solace from the reliability of the stark but definite knowledge that the cultural costume of indigenous identity apparently qualifies as an "important issue" for Professor Warren when it allows her to maximize her relationship to a misappropriated history by declaring that she will be the first Senator from Massachusetts with a Native background (as she did but several weeks ago at the aforementioned state Democratic Convention), but that the marginalization of Native and female voices merits little concern when the opportunity to actually listen to Cherokee women presents itself.

But for those perturbed by the possibility that Northeastern leftists are invariably pathologically mendacious, take comfort: at least one is merely cynically so. In response to an e-mail containing my previous critique of Harvard Law and Professor Warren, Kevin Franck warmly wrote, “From one partisan hack to another—welcome to show!” Glad to hear that the defense of the professor and the disregard for Native Americans from a Massachusetts Democratic Party official is purely “partisan” in nature; here I was, naively concerned that both sentiments might be sincere.

To invoke the formula of recent viral video phenomenon, the message this unfortunate episode communicates to the Native youth of America is that it does not, in fact, get better because even aspirants to elected office who purport to share your cultural origins will first ignore you, then proceed to demean your perspective via prevarication and misrepresentation.

Educated at Darmouth College and Columbia University, 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.

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tuschkahouma's picture
It seems as if every semi prominent indigenous person in existence is hitching their wagon to this issue. David Treuer defends Mrs. Warren then goes on NPR and clobbers her while making incorrect statements about Long Lance who was Black, White, Cherokee, and Lumbee. Then there are a whole list of people using this for their short time of indigenous identity discussion in the limelight. It's a shame that this ploy by the Brown campaign straight out of the Lee Atwater playbook against Governor Michael Dukakis in 1988 is getting the play it is. The GOP is about nothing more than plying dirt upon people. While all of you are distracted by this Warren nonsense I've called a couple of my GOP US Representatives to put an end to the stalling on the Carceiri Congressional Fix. Right now they're succeeding in distracting people with Warren while they're robbing tribes of their sovereignty. Both the Poarch Creeks and Gun Lake Potawatomi tribe had trust land awarded for loyalty in the 1820's and yet find themselves in this Carceiri IRA mess because people are distracted. The CNO has had a tribal recognition task force going after fake Cherokee tribes for a while now and have made the mistake of lumping historic state tribes like the Nanticoke, Pamunkey, Waccamauw, Houma, and Mowa Choctaw in with fake tribes. All the while no one assails one Wayne Newton even though he consistently sides with GOP political interests that go against Indian Country and is part of the Amonsquath Cherokee Tribe in VA that the CNO listed in the groups they were going after for misrepresenting Cherokee history and culture. I've seen a blonde haired women step out of a $40,000 Toyota Sequoia with CNO tribal tags on the vehicle at a KwikTrip in suburban Catoosa, Oklahoma, who wouldn't know what osiyo meant if I spoke it to them. Never mind the Sequoia/ Sequoyah Tsa-li-gi irony. If this woman I saw in Catoosa is Cherokee appearance wise then so is Elizabeth Warren. I could name Jack Forbes who was non enrolled....I could name Cliff Traefzer who is unenrolled.. I could name Louis Owens who was unenrolled...I could name Bruce Duthu who is from a state tribe that the CNO went after...was Joseph Bruchac enrolled? this whole issue is sooo stupid and yet all the attention goes away from Patchek V Gun Lake Potawatomi and Escambia County v PCI. If some of us go like bugs to the first light then whose left to see the real issues???
tuschkahouma
pianoforte's picture
This line of defenese is completely illogical and crazy. I don't even think I know any Indians who vote Republican. Most I'd hazard to say are Dems or even more liberal than Dems.
pianoforte
fslafountaine's picture
After reading the article, my opinion of Oklahoma Native Americans is confirmed. I just wished that the Oklahoma Tribes had a one-fourth Native American blood requirements for being a registered Indian. It would save the rest of us a lot of pain.
fslafountaine
pianoforte's picture
What opinion is that? I believe many Oklahoma tribes (other than the CNO, of course) do outline a 1/4 minimum blood quantum requirement for enrollment.
pianoforte
pianoforte's picture
It's not really that odd that this issue is garnering so much attention, since Professor Warren is one of the most prominent politicians in the country at the moment; Indian country doesn't exist in a vacuum or completely independently (in the sense that we still interact and live in the US in addition to each respective tribal nation), so Warren's actions definitely generate ramifications with respect to Native interactions with American culture at large. The question of her identity of lack thereof directly helps shape white ideas about that identity. David Treuer seemed to make a lot of incorrect statements throughout this entire story. I'm surprised he disagreed with her on NPR, since he was advocating for the notion that Native identity is some abstract construct to "claim" whenever he wrote for the Washington Post back in April on this.
pianoforte
pianoforte's picture
There's nothing really similar about this situation and that of the Willie Horton ads back in 1988. The point of this story above is that saying Native should stay quiet about this issue because it works against their best interests by playing into the GOP endgame is a condenscending and patronizing argument. It might benefit Scott Brown in some respect, but that doesn't alter the weird and disgusting manner in which Warren has conducted herself on this. It's not casting her as the bogeyman, like Lee Atwater's ads did. Also, I'd say the imagery of the Willie horton ads capitalized on latent fears of African-Americans, but the underlying point was that Dukakis had implemented weekend furloughs for first-degree murderers. Horton had stabbed to death a kid who worked at a convenience store, and was thereafter sentenced to life in prison. When Dukakis expanded the furlough program in Massachusetts prisons to include those incarcerated for life, Horton, not supririnsgly, never came back from one of his weekends away. Several months later, he broke into a couples' home, terrorized them for an extensive stretch of hours, beat the man, and raped the woman.
pianoforte
calliope's picture
tuschkahouma, evidently you don't feel it's appropriate for the blonde woman with the $40,000 car to identify as Cherokee because she wouldn't know what "osiyo" means. . .Well, Elizabeth Warren is celebrated as a national role model, so a win for her despite all of her misconduct will legitimize the claiming of Native identity by those who are totally divorced from their cultures. So your examples kind of reinforce the point as to why Warren's dishonesty is significant. I also noticed critiques by many in the earlier opinion posts on this matter about how Natives inserting themselves into US government elections doesnt make sense. But ICT positions itself into the discussion of this federal contest simply by covering it. Also, tribal sovereignty is limited, not absolute at the moment, since federal marshals can, for example, enter tribal land. And many Indians also don't live on tribal land, so the fact is that state representatives undeniably have some effect on Native issues.
calliope
gizmodo's picture
An interesting reply I noticed on the ICT Facebook page about this issue. So, it's not appropriate to apply a consideration of Warren's cultural authenicity, but it *is* appropriate to apply litmust tests to those Natives who find her equivocations strange? That's not inconsistent at all or anything. "I think what people need to understand is that if you claim you have a Cherokee ancestor, but cannot prove it, you too are up for attack by this group Twila Barnes is involved with. Twila has been enrolled with the Cherokee Nation for less than a year, raised in Missiouri, not within the Cherokee Nation, she has no clue about Cherokee traditions and culture. NOW, also understand, and it is common knowledge that the Cornsilks wish to terminate the Cherokee Nation, and Twila, being so new to the Cherokee Nation, has become their mouth piece and their pawn in this game. Elizabeth Warren has hurt no one by claiming she has a Cherokee ancestor, she has not taken a Indian's job or used diversity to obtain a job... This group of people DO NOT speak for the CHEROKEE NATION or the CITIZENS OF THE CHEROKEE NATION. In fact, there are many Cherokees who are very upset that they are being drug into this... try to have some respect for them."
gizmodo
tuschkahouma's picture
my point comparing the CNO member in Catoosa is that Cherokee citizens come in many colors. I remember playing a stickball game at Haskell about seven years ago and a kid in our group against the Creeks looked like an Alaska Native. It turns out he was enrolled from Maryland and was Cherokee and Korean! I have an acquaintance who is Phillipino and Mississippi Choctaw who looks fullblood and is below the MS 1/2 blood quantum and not totally enrolled as MS Choctaw. It has sounded like people don't believe Elizabeth Warren has ancestry due to her appearance. That's why I bring up the many blonde tribal descendants I've seen including a blonde Quapaw descendant I've seen at a Haskell pow wow. Right now I have worked with a whole family of Cherokee descendants over 15 years who are blonde living in Kansas who look Native and aren't enrolled with any Cherokee Nation. The reason I use Willie Horton is because the same effect is occuring here. Outsiders are determining who is Native just like outsiders used the African-American community in that 1988 election I voted in. There are so many adoptees and captives in any tribal history in this country who were raised with tribal beliefs and no initial bq issue because prior to Virginia and the early 19th century there was no bq issue. BlueJacket was a Shawnee captive.....Frances Slocum whom I read about in a book at HalfPrice Books recently was a Lenape and Myamiaa captive. If one is east of I-35 few tribes have BQ requirements. Correct me if I'm wrong but the ones with BQ requirements are the Ponca, Otoe-Missouria, Osage, Sac and Fox, Keetoowah Cherokee, and Iowa Nations east of I-35. West of I-35 pretty much everybody has BQ requirements. I've met tribally enrolled suburban people in Kansas. Some know their culture....some don't. I give Elizabeth Warren a pass on this because outside of this issue does this GOP really care about Native Americans? NO. Sure Nixon ended the Termination Policy Eisenhower started....sure Reagan signed IGRA into law....sure GHW Bush signed NAGPRA into law...that GOP is gone....Someone previously asked me what the Democrats did for Native Americans... lets see....The IRA was under FDR....many anti poverty initiatives started under LBJ....many of the court victories in the 1970's involving land claims, recognition restoration, fishing and hunting treaty rights, the American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978, and many presidential orders in favor of Indian Country were done by that worst president ever who still builds habitat homes and monitors elections...Jimmy Carter. Bill Clinton signed Executive Order #13007 into law and signed laws into effect restoring cultures and language. Mr. Obama ended the whole Cobell debacle recently with a $ 3.4 billion settlement that was below the amount Mr. McCain stated before being lassoed by the Bush Administration and above the $794 million stated by the legendary Reagan Appointee Cherokee sellout Ross Swimmer who fanned the Delaware/Cherokee beef and the Freedman issue. The damage done by this distraction makes me speechless. Does anyone remember the Nipmuc Nation who was in the PBS We Shall Remain series who had their positive BIA acknowledgement by the Clinton Administration undone by guess who....the Bush Administration...man this Warren thing sure makes people run away from real issues.
tuschkahouma
calliope's picture
Fair points about the lack of interest generally displayed by Republicans, but if you're dismissing the initiatives by Reagan/Bush I/Nixon, then you have to apply that same disregard for the past and the focus on the present to the Democratic party, and we're left with President Obama's role in the Cobell debacle, of which Mrs. Warren had no part. . . Both parties display a poor track record when it comes to indigenous rights and issues, which is why it's disingenuous and weird to suddenly declare that Natives are inherently working against their best interests by not supporting a woman who has demonstrated zero willingness to listen to Native voices that might disagree with her positions. It's not just about her appearance. I believe the previous article to which this one links talked also about her complete inability to point to anything beyond cheekbones when discussing her relationship to Cherokee culture. How exactly is her enviable bone structure going to permit her to invest the Senate or Cambridge with a Native perspective that she claims to possess? And she's the one who inserted the matter of superficial physical features into the discourse when she talked about those cheekbones. So she can't, on one hand, rely on the importance of external racial characteristics to bolster her argument and then cry "racist!" when the flipside of those external characteristics is pointed out. I have to agree that the Horton comparison is not really making sense to me. If the GOP had tried to align itself with the black community back then, that might be more comparable to the fact that the Republicans stand to hold a seat if Warren loses. But for this to be a reoccurence of the Horton saga, they'd have to be using mug shots of Indians to make them representative of a scary menace. And Horton was, in fact, a menace who should never have been furloughed (why would you need a furlough if you're supposed to spend the rest of your life or most of it in prison?), though the Atwater ads that stoked white fear of blacks in general were definitely distasteful.
calliope

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