Elizabeth Warren has claimed Cherokee ancestry, but has she got proof?

Cherokee Women Try to Meet With Elizabeth Warren; Campaign Offends Them

Rob Capriccioso

If U.S. Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren was telling the truth back in May when she said that she listed herself as an American Indian minority in order “to find some more people like me” while a professor from 1986 to 1995, she seems to have altogether abandoned that mission. That’s the conclusion of a group of four Cherokee women who are traveling in Massachusetts this week with the intent of meeting with the candidate to talk about her unproven claims of Indian ancestry and her understanding of tribal issues. During their time in Boston, Warren has dodged them – much to the delight of local press pointing out the oddness of the situation – and her campaign has labeled them as out-of-staters cavorting with extremists.

“The out-of-state group in question is being promoted and supported by a right-wing extremist who is on the record supporting and contributing money to Scott Brown,” Warren spokeswoman Alethea Harney told The Boston Herald in an article published on June 20. “It is past time we moved on to the important issues facing middle-class families in Massachusetts — even if Scott Brown won’t.”

Harney has not responded to requests for comment from Indian Country Today Media Network since the publication reported on May 31 that Warren and her campaign have dodged the Native press on several questions, while attempting to label Indian concerns as nonissues. She had told ICTMN earlier in May that the campaign wanted “to keep the lines of communication open,” but has since gone silent.

The Herald, which broke the story of Warren’s ancestry claims on April 27, reports that the extremist Harney told them she was referring to is Cornell University Law Professor William Jacobson, who runs the conservative blog Legal Insurrection and who contributed $500 to Brown during the special Senate election in the state in 2010. Jacobson has said he has helped the local media get in touch with the Cherokee women.

Twila Barnes, a Cherokee genealogist who has found no evidence that Warren is Cherokee as she claims, is outraged by the campaign’s assertions about her group’s travels.

“We don’t need a John Smith,” Barnes told ICTMN on June 20 via telephone. “We are smart Native women who did this on our own, and we are plenty smart enough to figure out that Warren has been less than truthful and now doesn’t want to talk about it. She doesn’t want to give us Native women that credit, yet she calls herself a Native woman. That’s just wrong.”

The Cherokee group of women, which include Barnes, Ellen Goss, and Ali Sacks from out of state, as well as Sky Davis, an Eastern Band citizen who lives in the state, denied they’ve received financial support from Jacobson, and they say they tend to lean left politically. They deny that the Brown campaign orchestrated their visit, and the women say they have partially paid for this visit through fundraising on Facebook and personal funding.

“We simply wanted this to be an educational visit for Warren and for everyone,” Barnes says. “Many non-Cherokee people don’t understand how many people falsely claim to be Cherokee. We wanted to share with people that we’re not just something from history, we are here, and we want to confront people like Warren in a civil way.”

Barnes says given the statement from the campaign casting them as out-of-state-extremists, she feels it is obvious that Warren will not meet with them. She says the candidate is missing out on a major opportunity to discuss issues that face Indians, including poverty, violence against women, and lacking healthcare.

“Elizabeth Warren calls herself a Native American and calls herself a Cherokee, but she doesn’t really seem to care about us,” Barnes says.

The Warren camp originally told The Herald on June 17 that its staff would meet with the Cherokee visitors, but Barnes shares that the campaign never followed through on that promise, especially after media outlets got word of their visit.

Barnes also commented on why she believes some Massachusetts Indians are choosing to be quiet about the scandal: “They might be afraid that Warren will win, and they will have to consider what is politically best for their tribes.”

Adds Barnes, “Almost all Cherokees I know vote Democratic, but that doesn’t mean this issue should allow us to sacrifice our integrity. We’re Cherokee first; if we don’t stand up, no one else will.”

Some Natives feel Warren is aggravating an already sensitive situation by having her campaign say that this is a non-issue because many Indians feel her self-identification is a crucial issue that speaks to her character and to how she understands Indian issues, which would be an important part of her job if elected to Congress.

“Elizabeth Warren has avoided taking responsibility for her false ethnic claims by avoiding a group of Cherokee women who traveled hundreds of miles just to spend time with her,” says David Cornsilk, a United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians citizen, who has created a Facebook group drawing attention to the Warren controversy. “Warren claimed she wanted to meet others like herself while claiming to be a Cherokee, yet when presented with the chance to actually talk to four authentic Cherokee women representing membership in all three of the federally recognized Cherokee tribes; she flees like a scared rabbit.”

Cornsilk, the managing editor of the independent Cherokee Observer newspaper, says that the campaign has made matters worse by denouncing the visitors: “Rather than recognizing the fact that someone might have the intelligence and wherewithal to come to their own conclusions about her claim and pay their own way to visit her, Warren resorts to the oldest political tactic in her book of dirty politics, by denouncing her visitors as extremists, paid shills of her opponent’s campaign or worse still, incapable of thinking on their own.”

Some Indians are also disappointed to see some major Democrats including Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick concur with Warren’s mishandling: “The Massachusetts Democratic Party discarded the other Democrat without a vote of the people,” Cornsilk says, referring to Warren’s former Democratic challenger Marisa DeFranco who was pushed out of the race during the state convention in early June. “They might want to reconsider that process in the future.”

For now, the Cherokee women are undeterred. Barnes says that the group will stay in Massachusetts through the end of the week. The Brown campaign has already met with them to discuss their concerns. Its manager also did an interview with ICTMN in an article published June 1 to discuss the Warren issue, and his office responded to questions about Brown’s record on tribal issues.

Barnes notes, too, that Warren’s birthday is June 22, and the group has a “personal Cherokee gift” they plan to somehow share with her, perhaps at a campaign event on June 21.

“Indians will get it right away,” Barnes says of the gift. “Real Indians will get it right away.”

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fslafountaine's picture
Submitted by fslafountaine on
Do you have photographs of these Cherokees opposing Elizabeth Warren and supporting Senator Scott Brown. I'm just curious about their looks.

wisgriz's picture
Submitted by wisgriz on
Good for these women to confront a phony. They should confront the Democratic Party for it's condesending atitude toward us a people. The behavior of the Governor, whose Black say's alot about his understanding of Indian's. The media is as equally at fault for this Where's are self-respect as Native people? Why do you go to the Democrat's? Look how they behave toward us. Wake up!! Wisgriz

margaretlaveson's picture
Submitted by margaretlaveson on
Unbelievable, and insulting! She just gave up the true identity of her spirit by not meeting with the Cherokee women. There is no doubt in my heart she is a manipulating fraud.

ppmickey's picture
Submitted by ppmickey on
This article interested me greatly because I am 1/8th Cherokee. I have always had a great love for the Cherokee people and spent some time with tribal members in Cherokee, NC when our Methodist Church Youth group went there to do repairs and painting of the mission building there. This was especially important to me because I had been adopted into Chief Big Buffalo's tribe when I was four years old. He worked in the cemetery where my paternal grandparents and my parents, brother and myself lived. He had previously been with Bill Cody's Wild West Show until Bill Cody died. Then he ended up with a carnival which he left when they arrived in Akron, Ohio. He lived in the Portage Hotel in downtown Akron, which is where he died. He was a dear friend of my paternal birth grandmother, whom I found out two years ago, was 1/2 Cherokee. Her father had been a full-blooded Cherokee. Chief Big Buffalo was on the payroll but really didn't work at Glendale Cemetery. He babysat for me when I was three and four years old and I dearly loved him. I was closer to him than I was to my birth grandmother. He was also Cherokee but I never knew what tribe he was with. The adoption ceremony he performed, when I was four, is something I remember like it was yesterday. It was such a beautiful ceremony. This was in 1956 and he died later that year. Since my parents didn't think I'd understand that he'd died, they told me he went home to his tribe. I missed him so much. He told me such wonderful stories and I dearly loved him. My birth grandmother I was never close to. My older cousin who eventually became caretaker of the cemetery, as my birth grandfather had for so many years, is the one who my grandmother told about her father who was a full blooded Cherokee. If you can help me figure out how to find out what tribe my grandmother was from and Chief Big Buffalo was from, please contact me at ppmickey@gmail.com Could anyone tell me how I can find out what tribe Chief Buffalo was in and what tribe my birth grandmother and my birth great-grandfather came from?

Katie Zemko
Katie Zemko
Submitted by Katie Zemko on
Just did a web search to see if Warren ever did meet with these women. Apparently not. I don't remember precisely, but I believe it was Rachel Maddow of MSNBC who slammed Warren's detractors on this issue stating Warren's claim is factually true, but never shared any supporting evidence, just kept insisting that Warren "IS (emphasis hers) Native American." I honestly don't know the truth of this matter, but the far right is loving this and I don't believe that does anyone except them much good. To the best of my knowledge, I'm a biological caucasion. It's better to be embarrassed than dishonest. I like to think, however, that my Values are not so white. Love Vine Deloria's sarcasm about based on the number of people who claim to have (primarily) Cherokee bloodlines from their Grandmother that at least ninety percent of First Nations people were at one time female. I've seen this play out a thousand times since reading that. It's become worse with the internet. The moment I mention anything to do with the Aboriginal people of this continent, no matter where I am online, I'm immediately accosted by at least one person claiming Cherokee blood from their Grand or Great Grandmother. Can't fathom why someone with long-term presidential ambitions would make this mistake. Because the lie (if it indeed is one) is already documented? I look forward to future updates on this matter.