Republican Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown and Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren debate September 20, with Indian Identity being a key issue.

US Sen. Scott Brown Confronts Elizabeth Warren on Her American Indian Claims

Rob Capriccioso
9/21/12

In his most direct shots against U.S. Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren, U.S. Sen. Scott Brown, R-Massachusetts, challenged her claims of Native American heritage in their first debate on the evening of September 20—and the shots kept coming from his campaign after the debate ended.

Kicking off a lively one-on-one in Boston, Brown looked at Warren squarely, and said she had presented no evidence to show she has Cherokee and Delaware ancestry, which she has claimed for years sans any tribal enrollment or genealogical evidence. She has relied on family folklore to back up her claim, but genealogists, including Indian ones, who have researched the lore have found no blood ties that would indicate she is any part Native.

“She checked the box claiming she is Native American, and clearly she is not…. I think character is important," Brown said. “You refuse to release your records, and I think that speaks volumes.”

Warren responded that she has answered all questions about her claimed heritage, and she believes the election should be focused on jobs and taxes.

“I never used it, never used it for getting into college, never used it for getting into law school,” Warren said. “There’s nothing else there, the question has been asked and answered. I think the senator just doesn’t like the answer.”

But all was not settled. Brown’s campaign manager Jim Barnett kept the hits coming after the debate, telling Indian Country Today Media Network, “Tonight, Elizabeth Warren claimed that being Native American was part of who she is, and ‘it’s not going to change.’ Her problem is that she has changed who she claims to be repeatedly. For years she checked the box that she was white. Then when she started looking for jobs in the Ivy League, she suddenly claimed she was minority. And once she reached the pinnacle of academia with a tenured position at Harvard, she went back to listing herself as white.”

Warren has been a professor of law at Harvard Law School since the early 1990s. Early on there, she listed herself as Native, and Harvard promoted her in publications as such. Later, she quietly stopped listing herself that way, but Harvard continued to say it had a Native faculty member.

Barnett says Harvard holds responsibility here, too: “Harvard filed federal reports that relied on Professor Warren’s misrepresentations. It should correct those records and take appropriate action to protect its reputation.” American Indian scholars have said they are disappointed that Warren took a spot on the Harvard faculty as a Native that a Native with documented roots could have taken.

Barnett added that Warren “could help put this controversy to rest by releasing her personnel records from Harvard just like Scott Brown released his complete National Guard personnel file,” but she “refuses to do that and her decision to withhold this information tells you all you need to know.”

While Warren and her campaign have downplayed the importance of this Native identity issue, Brown says it speaks directly to her character, and polls have indicated that it matters to independent voters. With the race currently very close between the candidates, with polls alternating who is in the lead by the day, every vote here will matter, experts say.

Warren has done little to help calm the controversy, instead always sticking to her story on family lore. She has chosen not to do interviews with the Native press, has ignored visits and inquiries from Cherokees, and she refused to meet with Native American delegates at the Democratic National Convention earlier this month. Her campaign did not respond to questions from Indian Country Today Media Network after the debate.

In recent days, some relatives of Elizabeth Warren have told The Boston Globe that they share none of her remembrance of Indian ancestry, while others cited the same lore she has relied on. Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, and former chair of the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, also recently called her claim “bizarre. … I know lots and lots of Native Americans, they have a very huge presence in my state and I’ve yet to meet one of them who claims to be related to Elizabeth Warren,” McCain told The Boston Herald earlier this week.

Watch the Full Debate Below:

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ojibwe's picture
ojibwe
Submitted by ojibwe on
It is tragic and bitter that this publication would pander to this low story....I am an old Ojibwe an and I have seen every level of racist pandering, including the very prevalent racist attitudes of American Indians. Our Ojibwe elders always felt the so-called reservation community should make a better effort to understand where the many lost relations are in this world. The blood quantum argument is a fantasy. It is an argument used to deny many truths. There is no evidence that Warren made any attempt to "benefit" from her belief in who her ancestors are. None. I see no reason to doubt Ms. Warren. Indeed, looking at her it is easy to see the lines of those ancestors, for me. Indian Country is screwing up an opportunity to have a really great friend here. The American Indians who are using this in a negative way are showing how often, and once again, the self-defeating behavior of clueless tribal leadership. Warren should be embraced loudly and boldly as a lost relation. This would bring a huge mountain of interest and support for our tribal issues. I can't believe not one of the big mouths yelling about this do not have the good sense to see how they should embrace publicly Warren as one of us. What are you all afraid of? I know also that many so-called "bloods" would be hard pressed to prove themselves if pressed by an international journalistic frenzy. So far, Indian Country is mindlessly and sadly on the WRONG SIDE of this issue. Wake up. Let some tribe or community of people who are actually PAYING ATTENTION step up here and do the brave thing. It would be a great help. It is difficult to believe and watch how poorly Indian Country is on this issue.

auroracollins's picture
auroracollins
Submitted by auroracollins on
Let her get a DNA test done, she can then show if the native heritage is a fact, wont give the tribal affiliation but will show if there is DNA evidence. Many folks have done so to solve just such a dilemma.

greenriverkate's picture
greenriverkate
Submitted by greenriverkate on
Ok, this infuriated me! Just who the hell is Brown to question anyone? Being Native has nothing to do with the debate. But even more so, since when do we judge any native by COLOR? My kids are enrolled and look white. My cousin is cree and blond and blue eyed. And for you to give this man a say, pisses me off even more. As far a McCain, he has screwed over more tribes than I can count. And why would Natives from AZ say they are related to Warren if she is Deleware and Cherokee. Those tribes do not normally reside in the state of AZ. All so damn petty and clearly a swipe at Natives! Again, elections have become about "color". So wrong. My family is flathead but I am not enrolled nor do I claim native. Back in the day, color had a lot to do with enrollment! Even brothers, full brothers, one would be enrolled and the other would not. Do NOT let white people put natives into catagories of color! Ignorant as all get out. I would never vote for this man for the meare fact he brought up color!

ribluebird's picture
ribluebird
Submitted by ribluebird on
Ojibwe I totally agree with you. I have watched her over the years she was serving in Obama cabinet and she always showed herself to be an honest and upstanding person. How many in OK claim to have Indian blood weither Black or White.

tooley's picture
tooley
Submitted by tooley on
ojibwe, Thank You. Your argument in support of lost relations brings me to tears. I am in much the same boat as Ms. Warren in that I have spent many years doing genealogical research in order to lay proof to family lore of our Cherokee ancestry. Some of our family names do appear on the rolls, but thanks to the multiple name variations and misspellings I can't show direct links. Even some of the relatives who could show direct links were denied inclusion on the rolls, thanks to bureaucratic examiners.(DNA testing has been unaffordable until recently, but anthropological evidence is easily seen in our features.) Everything points to the probability that the ancestors never made it to Oklahoma; that they dropped off the Trail during the removal and disappeared into the Ozarks. I have never tried to "benefit" from my ancestry. I have done this research to honor my grandfather who was humiliated as a child for having "big Indian ears," and for his grandmother who hid her ancestry, fearing discrimination. Pretty likely that she wouldn't have gone to Tahlequah to register. It's too bad that Ms. Warren's claims are being held against her. Really, people, we have bigger concerns.

robp1a's picture
robp1a
Submitted by robp1a on
Criticism for Rob Carpriccisco: You failed to note Brown's racist statement: "...Native American, a person of color, and as you can see, she’s not...." As you can see. Brown is asking the audience to judge if Warren looks Indian? What Brown thinks an Indian looks like is clearly a concerning point. And what about Ambassador Stevens? Would he met Brown's expectations of what an Indian looks like? Brown confuses the issue with overtly racist connotations. Will he called out on the mat or will he get a pass?

candyo's picture
candyo
Submitted by candyo on
After researching my own roots I found that being Native American has come in and out of being in vogue. In some early treaties of some Tribes if you proclaimed yourself of Native American Ancestry that was all they needed because there was no DNA test and they depended on the oral word since most of the culture could not read or write. Now, it is politically, correct to have a CDIB card which states what Tribe you are affiliated with and how much blood quantum you might have which is listed on the card. How can anyone deny a person if they say they have Native ancestry? There are many people who's names were changed once they attended the so-called Indian Schools so they would not remember who attended and so many of the attendees were beaten, starved for even using their own language which they learned from their parents while growing up. It was hard for them to write their Indian names so the gov't just gave them new names... Even if you have Native Blood from two or more Native American Tribes, the gov't only allows a person even today to list only one Tribe on their CDIB card. You are prohibited from joining two or more Tribes. This law should be changed. It makes a person choose which Tribes to be a part of and which one to leave out. You should celebrate all the Tribes you are a part of not just the one that is typed on a plastic card. If Ms. Warren says she is Cherokee then, give her the benefit of the doubt.

coledelaune's picture
coledelaune
Submitted by coledelaune on
It is astounding that you're contending that, "Indian Country is screwing up an opportunity to have a really great friend here." Exactly how does the contempt that Mrs. Warren has displayed for Natives who have sought to establish lines of communication with her suggest that she will in any way act in the best interests of indigenous peoples if she is ultimately elected to the Senate? She has rebuffed requests from ICT for comment repeatedly over the past four months, and refused to speak to Native delegates at the DNC. The issue extends beyond questions of blood quantum, and encompasses her appalling behavior; the foundational hypocrisy illuminated in insisting that one will be a voice for the forgotten and oppressed while declining to acknowledge or engage with the most historically marginalized minority in the United States; and her complete lack of cultural understanding or familiarity with the Cherokee history or contemporary peoples.

coledelaune's picture
coledelaune
Submitted by coledelaune on
Well, Brown is her opponent, so obviously he is going to address issues that relate to her conduct, and vice versa. I don't think he articulated the argument as elegantly as possible, but the question of fabricated Native heritage is germane to the debtate and the election because Warren has couched her entire platform on the promise that she will advocate for the ignored, oppressed, and forgotten in DC. And she's consistently refused to speak to the most historically and systematically disenfranchised community in America, with whom she purports to be "proud" to share a heritage, since this story emerged in April. So. . . how is she going to effectively promote Native perspectives and concerns when she won't even respond to a request for comment from the largest Native news source in the country? Mrs. Warren herself introduced external signifiers of race into the public discourse by asserting that she has "high cheekbones. . .like all the Indians do." So evidently she's totally cool with superficial stereotypes that benefit her situationally. Additionally, he didn't bring up "color." After Warren communicated her nominal lineage to Harvard Law School, they began promoting her as a "woman of color." The administration responded to criticism about its lack of faculty diversity by touting Warren as someone who added to the multiculturalism in Cambridge because she was a "woc" and an "American Indian woman." Considering that, I don't see why it is unreasonable to ask, okay, well how did she contribute to the diversity there? She facilitated the beauracratic stance on the issue, and additionally contributing to their claiming her as Native in Department of Labor filings. She has been unable to express any familiarity with Cherokee culture, customs, traditions, concerns, or contemporary events since this story emerged, and has demonstrated no desire to acquaint herself with the elements of that arena.

coledelaune's picture
coledelaune
Submitted by coledelaune on
I think the reasoning that, "everyone in Oklahoma claims or actually has Indian blood," is reductive and essentially a less exaggerated version of, "Humanity orginated in Africa, so we're all African-American." When one introduces an idea into the public arena like Warren did with respect to her hypothetical Native ancestry, one should be prepared for follow-ups like, "well, what does it exactly mean when you say you'll be the 'first Senator from Massachusetts with a Native background?'" She's maximizing her relationship to the Cherokee tribe but has exhibited absolutely no desire to communicate with Cherokees or any other Native Americans since April, and similarly has displayed not the slightest understanding of Cherokee culture, concerns, issues, etc. So. . . how is someone who doesn't have substantiated blood connection or the even more significant cultural connection a member of the community to which they're refusing to speak? Additionally, just fyi, she didn't serve in the Obama Cabinet.

ojibwe's picture
ojibwe
Submitted by ojibwe on
This is a sad story. The American Indian leadership has gotten on the wrong side of this issue. There is no rational reason to doubt Ms. Warren at all. I am an old Ojibwe man, and I find her story reasonable. If tribal leadership embraced Warren, it would be a huge victory for American Indian issues. I am so surprised and deeply disappointed in all the racist posturing the Indian Country media has engaged in here. It is like you are all delighted and overjoyed at the shameless attacks on this fine woman. I have watched American Indians defeat themselves, stand on the wrong side of issues all my life. Nothing has changed. The failure of leadership here is huge. This is a great opportunity for forward thinking American Indians to embrace an important issue in an honourable way. But all we have is finger pointing and a siding with what can only be described as racist posturing. Brown will never do any favours for indian Country, ever. Here, you all have a chance to make an important friend, and instead of seeing the light, you have just double downed on the tragedy of this lost opportunity.

tejas's picture
tejas
Submitted by tejas on
You missed it then. Brown racialized Warren in front of everyone during the debate. He said "she is no person of color." Brown has conssitently voted against the interests of the less than affluent since he became U.S. Senator. The Boston Herald has opposed Native interests for generations.

tejas's picture
tejas
Submitted by tejas on
Brown's racism is clear to those who have watched him. The Brown campaign is manipulating this and making stuff up. Harvard did not give Brown an appointment in Native studies, she is a law professor specializing in consumer law and her record is impressive. Brown campaign trying to make this an affirmative action case and that is a joke.

coledelaune's picture
coledelaune
Submitted by coledelaune on
Tejas, I'm aware of what Brown said during the debate; my point is that he did not introduce questions of Warren's race/ethnicity and/or the term "person of color" into the public discourse. Harvard Law did throughout the 1990s until last year, when, with relative consistency, the administration touted her as a "woman of color" in various interviews and listed her as a Native American in diversity statistics. Warren (after initially denying she ever communicated her purported lineage to the school) finally conceded that she told Harvard she was Native American, so she facilitated their public position and has tactitly endorsed it in the present. I'm unsure how The Boston Herald's record somehow legitimizes or addresses Warren's repugnant behavior toward Native Americans in the present. Similarly, Brown's votes are certainly fair game for scrutiny, as is every action and idea introduced by political figures into the collective dialogue. However, that doesn't somehow mitigate or explain Warren's refusal to speak to Native American media or DNC delegates; the incongruity between Harvard's advertisement of her as someone who added Native perspectives to the staff and her complete lack of any knowledge about Indian issues; or the fact that she self-identified as a Native in federal Department of Labor filings despite not meeting the defition of "Native" delineated by the school or the government. You are certainly within reason to parse the legislative history of a candidate with whom you disagree, but this is not necessarily an either/or proposition. Ideological disagreements with Brown do not automatically render Warren's conduct any less offensive or hypocritical.

coledelaune's picture
coledelaune
Submitted by coledelaune on
Don't you think the trend that you described in referring to Native American identity as being "in and out of vogue" is kind of inherently problematic in that it reduces Indian heritage to a novelty or fad? If one simply can self-identify as an ethnicity at will, that essentially robs the distinction of all meaning. And racial differences are important because we live in a society that is imperfect: prejudicial, colorblind, and narrow-minded in many unfortunate instances. So, if we extend the "benefit of the doubt" to Mrs. Warren, who has rebuffed all attempts from Natives to communicate with her; has demonstrated not even the most rudimentary knowledge of the tribe with whom she claims to share a heritage; and similarly herself reduces Native identity to "high cheekbones," why, for instance, would it be functionally different for Michele Bachmann to say she's African-American? When a public figure issues statements into the collective conversation, they generate effects and are subject to scrutiny and consideration. So, why is it unreasonable to wonder, "Well, what does Elizabeth Warren mean when she says she will be the first Native Senator from Massachusetts?" So far, the only answer we have to that question is "high cheekbones" because she has refused to speak to Indians, even DNC delegates, who have sought to engage in dialogue with her.

coledelaune's picture
coledelaune
Submitted by coledelaune on
How has Indian Country Today ruined any prospective relationship with "an important friend" when Warren has refused to respond to requests for comment; rebuffed attempts to meet by indigenous Democratic National Convention delegates; and first agreed to meet with Cherokee women with whom she purports to share a heritage only to subsequently decline to do so? Friends usually acknowledge their other friends and typically don't malign them as agents of a right-wing conspiracy absent any proof.
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