More than 200 members of the Cherokee Nation penned an open letter to Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren Wednesday urging the Democratic presidential candidate to “fully address the harm” she caused by falsely identifying as a Native American for years.
“Whatever your intentions, your actions have normalized white people claiming to be Native, and perpetuated a dangerous misunderstanding of tribal sovereignty,” they wrote. “Your actions do not exist in a vacuum but are part of a long and violent history.”
Citizens of the tribe said white citizens claiming to be members of “fake tribes” have continued to be awarded more than $800 million in federal contracts set aside for minority businesses.
“Rather than using evidence of Native ancestry, these fake tribes rely solely on family stories and commercial DNA tests,” the authors explained. “When you still defend yourself by stating you believed what you heard growing up, you set a harmful example for these white people stealing Native identity and resources.”
For decades, Warren lied about her own ancestry, claiming to be Native American throughout her career. The Massachusetts senator went as far as to contribute recipes to an Indian cookbook titled “Pow Wow Chow,” identifying herself as Cherokee under each. In 2012, Warren justified her claim to Native American heritage by saying her aunt often told Warren their family had “high cheek bones like all of the Indians do.”
As Warren prepared to run for president in the fall of 2018, she released the results of a DNA test to prove her ancestry after years of mocking from political rivals including President Donald Trump, who granted Warren the nickname “Pocahontas” and often repeats it when jabbing the progressive senator.
The release of Warren’s DNA test results backfired, however, when they failed to offer any hard proof that she has Native American heritage, let alone Cherokee. The test only revealed there was “strong evidence” to suggest she might have one Native American relative from six to 10 generations ago in her family history. Therefore, if she were to have a Native American relative, Warren would only be anywhere from 1/65 to 1/1,024 Native American, less than the average American can claim.
Upon their release, the results sparked sharp criticism from the Cherokee Nation, who condemned Warren’s claim to their lineage as “inappropriate and wrong.” Warren has since apologized for lying about her own race and says she no longer identifies as a Native American.
In their Wednesday letter to Warren, however, the Cherokee citizens said her apology still wasn’t enough and accused the senator of cultural appropriation.
“While your apologies are a step in the right direction, they have been vague and inadequate,” the more than 200 tribal citizens wrote. “Accountability is not just admitting you made a mistake, but working to correct the harm it caused.”
Correction: a previous version of this article described the authors of the letter as “Cherokee leaders,” and has been updated to accurately identify them as merely concerned “citizens.”