Nearly a week after Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) apologized to the Cherokee Nation for a controversial DNA test that suggested she had Native American heritage, a new report has emerged that Warren identified as American Indian in the 1980s.
Warren wrote she was American Indian in a 1986 registration card she filled out for the State Bar of Texas, according to a report from the Washington Post’s Annie Linskey and Amy Gardner. Gardner tweeted out a picture of the original form. Warren filled out the card after she was admitted to the bar, the Post reported. The form says information about her ethnicity was being gathered for statistical purposes; there’s no indication it was used for professional advancement.
Here is the form Elizabeth Warren filled out for the State Bar of Texas claiming American Indian heritage. pic.twitter.com/VwHifS7BCL— Amy Gardner (@AmyEGardner) February 6, 2019
It is the first document that has so far come to light showing Warren herself making the claim she was American Indian, according to Linskey and Gardner’s report. Warren’s office hasn’t disputed the authenticity of the form or reporting.
“She is sorry that she was not more mindful of this earlier in her career,” Kristen Orthman, a Warren campaign spokesperson, told the Post.
It’s unclear whether this new information will actually hurt Warren with primary voters as she is set to formally announce her presidential campaign, but it will likely open up new lines of attack from President Donald Trump and Republicans. A POLITICO/Morning Consult poll conducted in October, the same month Warren initially took her DNA test, showed 49 percent of polled voters said the test didn’t change their opinion of the senator.
But the latest report hammers home the reality that Warren can’t seem to shake this story, especially at a time when the senator wants to put the chapter behind her. Last week, Warren called Bill John Baker, the principal chief of the Cherokee Nation to apologize, the Times’s Astead W. Herndon reported. A spokesperson described the conversation as “brief and private.” They released a statement to CNN’s Manu Raju:
”We are encouraged by her action and hope that the slurs and mockery of tribal citizens and Indian history and heritage will now come to an end,” said Cherokee Nation’s Executive Director of Communications Julie Hubbard— Manu Raju (@mkraju) February 1, 2019
Warren’s apology comes as she gears up to move from “exploratory committee” to officially running for president next week (the news was first reported by the Intercept). The senator formed an exploratory committee last week but is expected to make a formal announcement soon.
“I understand that she apologized for causing confusion on tribal sovereignty and tribal citizenship and the harm that has resulted,” Cherokee Nation spokesperson Julie Hubbard told the Times. “The chief and secretary of state appreciate that she has reaffirmed that she is not a Cherokee Nation citizen or a citizen of any tribal nation.”
Warren is trying to move on as she officially moves into the 2020 race. It’s not clear she can. President Trump recently said in interview with the New York Times, “I do think Elizabeth Warren’s been hurt very badly with the Pocahontas trap.”
Warren’s DNA test, briefly explained
Warren took the DNA test this fall after persistent questions about her claims of Native American heritage, including a challenge from Trump in July to take the test.
The DNA analysis, performed by Stanford University professor Carlos Bustamante, concluded that while the “vast majority” of Warren’s ancestry is European, the results “strongly suggest” Native American heritage six to 10 generations ago. Warren’s team first released the results to the Boston Globe.
But the Cherokee Nation argues that this alone isn’t enough for Warren to call herself Cherokee, because having a documented Cherokee ancestor, not genetics, is what makes the difference.
As Vox’s Dylan Matthews explained in February, Warren has consistently said that her mother is part Cherokee, even though Warren herself isn’t an enrolled member of the three federally registered Cherokee tribes. Her ancestors don’t appear on the Dawes Rolls, an official list of members of the Cherokee, Choctaw, Creek, Chickasaw, and Seminole tribes put together in the early 20th century. Having a direct ancestor on the rolls is a requirement for enrollment in the Cherokee Nation.
“Using a DNA test to lay claim to any connection to the Cherokee Nation or any tribal nation, even vaguely, is inappropriate and wrong,” the statement from Cherokee Nation secretary of state Chuck Hoskin Jr. read. “Senator Warren is undermining tribal interests with her continued claims of tribal heritage.”
Hoskin’s statement also said Warren’s DNA test “makes a mockery out of DNA tests and its legitimate uses.”
Cherokee Nation responds to release of Senator Warren’s DNA test. pic.twitter.com/UUB8LSvmyo— CherokeeNation (@CherokeeNation) October 15, 2018
Over the holidays, the Massachusetts senator made explicit what everyone has assumed for a while — that she’s planning to run for president in 2020 and has formed an exploratory committee to do so.
In September, the Boston Globe took a deep dive into whether Warren’s identification as Native American contributed to her rise in legal academia. Reporter Annie Linskey’s investigation determined it had no bearing on Warren’s hiring at distinguished universities, including Harvard.
But given the persistent needling from Trump, Warren decided to clear up the questions.
“I won’t sit quietly for @realDonaldTrump’s racism, so I took a test,” the senator tweeted in October. “But DNA & family history has nothing to do with tribal affiliation or citizenship, which is determined only — only — by Tribal Nations. I respect the distinction, & don’t list myself as Native in the Senate.”
I won't sit quietly for @realDonaldTrump's racism, so I took a test. But DNA & family history has nothing to do with tribal affiliation or citizenship, which is determined only – only – by Tribal Nations. I respect the distinction, & don't list myself as Native in the Senate.— Elizabeth Warren (@elizabethforma) October 15, 2018
The Cherokee Nation response to Warren’s analysis couldn’t have been better fodder for Trump, who gleefully seized on the statement in his own tweet.
“Now Cherokee Nation denies her, ‘DNA test is useless,’” Trump said. “Even they don’t want her. Phony!”
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!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 16, 2018
Warren’s test opened up new lines of attack
The release of the DNA test this fall has proved to be a stumble that conservatives and President Donald Trump have seized on.
A few days after Warren announced she has formed a presidential exploratory committee, Trump took another swipe at the Massachusetts Democrat over a DNA test she released in October that “strongly” suggested she had Native American heritage.
On Thursday, the president tweeted a meme from the conservative website the Daily Wire. “Warren — 1/2020th,” the meme read.
It’s both a reference to Warren’s campaign and an (inaccurate) dig at her heritage. Warren’s DNA test suggested she could have had a Native American ancestor between six and 10 generations ago. But after inaccurate media analysis of her test, the president tweeted in October that Warren may be around 1/1,024 Native American.
That earned him three Pinocchios from Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler, who concluded that while Trump was going off fumbled media reports, it was inaccurate to say Warren had less Native American blood than the average American.
Nevertheless, Trump is showing no signs of backing off his claim. The test backfired for Warren, rankling the Cherokee Nation. And now that she is officially exploring a run for president, Trump wants to keep the heat on a Warren weak spot as much as possible.
Warren was clearly trying to put the question of her Native American heritage to rest, but in doing so, she may have opened up new lines of attack that Trump and other critics can use. The president and Republicans have focused much more on Warren’s claims of Native American heritage than on her sweeping policy proposals to clean up corruption in Washington, lower the cost of housing, and hold corporations more accountable.
Rather than settling the speculation by responding to Trump’s challenge, she prompted an entirely new argument about whether she should have taken the test at all, and opened up fears that she had hobbled her presidential campaign before it even got off the ground.
The National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center — an organization raising awareness about violence toward Native American women and families, and the charity Warren requested Trump donate $1 million to as part of his bet about her DNA test — came to the senator’s defense this fall.
“We appreciate Senator Warren’s push to bring awareness to violence against American Indian and Alaska Native women and families, who all too often are invisible to most Americans,” the center said in a statement. “As marginalized communities, we often struggle to bring tribal interests to the center of the debate.”
Also voicing support for Warren’s decision was the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians — one of three federally recognized Cherokee tribes (the Cherokee Nation is another).
“Senator Elizabeth Warren does not claim to be a citizen of any tribal nation, and she is not a citizen of the Eastern Band,” said Eastern Band Principal Chief Richard Sneed in a statement to Business Insider. “Like many other Americans, she has a family story of Cherokee and Delaware ancestry and evidence of Native ancestry.”
Sneed said he believes Warren has shown respect for Cherokee tribal sovereignty, and “has not used her family story or evidence of Native ancestry to gain employment or other advantage.”
Warren and her allies are trying to steer the conversation back to policy rather than a continued focus on her heritage. But now that she’s one of the few big names formally in the ring for 2020, don’t expect Trump’s taunts to go away anytime soon.