This article in Slate explains why the Cherokee Nation objects to Elizabeth Warren’s using a DNA test to verify that she had a Native American ancestor.

I am very familiar with tribal politics because as the publisher of the pro-Mashpee Wampanoag1 casino website in Middleboro, Massachusetts I got to know all the tribal leaders in 2007. Here’s an article that summaries my involvement: The prospect of Wampanoag resort casino in Middleboro exposes the underbelly of racism.

The Cherokee Nation is currently making a case about how they determine tribal membership and identity. It has little if anything to do with the political case Warren is making. I believe that tribes have both legal and cultural rights to determine membership in their tribes.  Unfortunately, I think the issue brought into public discourse by the Cherokee Nation (below) is muddying the waters in national politics.

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, who ancestors are well documented and whose heritage is prove. Senator Warren is undermining tribal interests with her continued claims of tribal heritage.

When I was active in the Indian casino fight we had almost half the town railing against a Mashpee Wampanoag casino and personally level public attacks against people like me who were outspoken supporters. (See “Anti-casino coalition is taking its message to the people”)

Both before the Town Meeting (largest ever) voted to allow it and afterward some tribe members were arguing amongst themselves who the  “real”  Wampanoags were. Even the tribe president, Glenn Marshall, (who we later learned had been embezzling tribal money 2 ) was accused of being an opportunist who had identified himself as Cape Verdian until casino money came on the table. I saw that who claimed membership in a tribe was extremely important to members and it wasn’t just that potential casino money was involved.

I learned that there before many tribes got involved in opening lucrative casinos on tribal land and the federal government got involved in deciding when tribes could take non-reservation into trust for their casinos like they tried to do in Middleboroissues about tribal membership were kept private within the tribes.

I understand that dating back to the era Trail of Tears Native Americans have had justifiable reasons to distrust the federal government. Slate notes their most recent battle with the courts: “ The Cherokee Nation just this week had decided to challenge a recent decision by a federal judge in Texas who declared a law called the Indian Child Welfare Act unconstitutional.” This could end up in the Supreme Court. Currently, the Mashpee Wampanoag are protesting a Trump adminsitration land ruling.

I find it disheartening that this matter has been bought onto the national political stage, particularly in a way that Donald Trump is likely to use against Elizabeth Warren.

Addendum:

As I was writing this I predicted Trump would use this against her saying she did have a distant Native American ancestor and saying the Cherokees had disowned her. Then I read his most recent Tweets in which he did exactly that.

  •  Thank you to the Cherokee Nation for revealing that Elizabeth Warren, sometimes referred to as Pocahontas, is a complete and total Fraud!
  •  Now that her claims of being of Indian heritage have turned out to be a scam and a lie, Elizabeth Warren should apologize for perpetrating this fraud against the American Public. Harvard called her “a person of color” (amazing con), and would not have taken her otherwise!
  • Pocahontas (the bad version), sometimes referred to as Elizabeth Warren, is getting slammed. She took a bogus DNA test and it showed that she may be 1/1024, far less than the average American. Now Cherokee Nation denies her, “DNA test is useless.” Even they don’t want her. Phony!

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Update: This story is currently all over the Internet: VOX, CBS News, USA Today, CNN, Daily Beast, NPR, The Hill, and The Week for example.

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Footnotes

1) The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, also known as the People of the First Light, has inhabited present day Massachusetts and Eastern Rhode Island for more than 12,000 years. After an arduous process lasting more than three decades, the Mashpee Wampanoag were re-acknowledged as a federally recognized tribe in 2007. In 2015, the federal government declared 150 acres of land in Mashpee and 170 acres of land in Taunton as the Tribe’s initial reservation, on which the Tribe can exercise its full tribal sovereignty rights. The Mashpee tribe currently has approximately 2,600 enrolled citizens. FROM THEIR WEBSITE

2) In 2009 Marshall was sentenced to 3½ years in federal prison after pleading guilty to political corruption and embezzlement charges. Federal prosecutors said Marshall stole nearly $400,000 given to the tribe by a casino investor. Read “The rise and fall of a tribal leader”

3) Their Cape Cod land would not have been a viable site for a casino.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Using facts to fight trump is like using gasoline on a fire… His focus is on creating the message – bending words to help create the narrative is natural..

  2. This is how Ross Douthat (in today’s NY Times) summarizes what he calls “The Elizabeth Warren Fiasco.”

    The DNA test thus simultaneously gives Trump an obvious way to keep the story going on his terms — just pick the lowest end of the genetic estimate and make sport of a “Pocahontas” who’s only one-1,000th Indian — while also annoying Indian groups and anyone on the left (including the actual minority candidates against whom Warren may run) invested in a vision of affirmative action as a righter of historic wrongs rather than just a means to elite self-congratulation.

    Warren should not have taken the test; having taken it, she should not have publicized it; having publicized it, she should quietly fire anyone who urged this gambit and move on. And liberals generally should regard this whole thing as a cautionary tale. There is an obvious appetite on the activist left for a candidate or candidates willing to take on Trump on his own brawler’s terms. But if you come at him that way, you best not miss — as Michael Avenatti, the would-be Trump of the Resistance, has been missing repeatedly of late, with a Kavanaugh intervention that helped get the judge confirmed and a libel lawsuit that just got his own client ordered to pay Trump’s legal fees.

    Now Warren has joined Avenatti in that loser’s gallery, for absolutely no good reason that I can see. Her self-own isn’t the biggest deal in the world, and her partisans are right that if mostly conservatives are agitated by the fiasco then it might not hurt her much. But a “front-runner” who’s polling at 8 percent needs to be showing reasons other candidates should be pre-emptively intimidated, and why the party should decide on her. And the fact that we’re talking, for no good reason, about a fragment of Elizabeth Warren’s DNA three weeks before an essential midterm is a sign that she shouldn’t exactly terrify her rivals yet.

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