Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) has faced questions for years about her claims she has Native American ancestry — most infamously from President Donald Trump, who nicknamed her “Pocahontas” and dared her in July to take a DNA test.
Warren did. Monday, she released a DNA analysis of her genes showing she does have Native American ancestry.
The analysis, performed by Stanford University professor Carlos Bustamante, concludes that the “vast majority” of the senator’s ancestry is European, but the results “strongly suggest” Native American heritage six to 10 generations ago. Warren’s team first released the results to the Boston Globe.
Warren is up for reelection in Massachusetts in November and is expected to win, but she’s widely rumored to have set her sights on 2020 — and she has said that after the midterms she will “take a hard look” at running for president.
Along with the DNA results, Warren’s campaign’s “fact squad” released data and information about her heritage, including a Globe investigation from September that found that her ethnicity wasn’t a factor in her rise in the legal academics ranks.
They also put out a video of Warren and her family in Oklahoma discussing her family’s history. The video features clips of Trump, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders, and others making fun of Warren’s heritage claims, which the DNA test has now proven to likely be true.
“The president likes to call my mom a liar — what do the facts say?” Warren asks Bustamante, who did the DNA analysis, in the video.
“The facts suggest that you absolutely have Native American ancestry in your pedigree,” he replies.
President Trump has called Warren “Pocahontas” for months, and at a rally over the summer he said he would give $1 million to charity if she takes a DNA test. Warren tweeted a reminder of the president’s promise and asked for him to send a check to the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center.
By the way, @realDonaldTrump: Remember saying on 7/5 that you’d give $1M to a charity of my choice if my DNA showed Native American ancestry? I remember – and here's the verdict. Please send the check to the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center: https://t.co/I6YQ9hf7Tv pic.twitter.com/J4gBamaeeo— Elizabeth Warren (@elizabethforma) October 15, 2018
The White House didn’t return a request for comment on Trump’s reaction.
How we got here in the first place
That a sitting US senator and potential presidential candidate would spend so much time and energy on proving she is somewhere between 1/32nd and 1/1,024th Native American, at first glance, seems a bit silly. You would think her sweeping policy proposals or her career history as a successful law professor would be more important.
But questions about her heritage have dogged Warren since her 2012 Senate campaign, the Globe explains, when Republican operatives found stories in the Harvard Crimson referring to Warren as Native American in order to demonstrate the law school faculty’s diversity. Warren had her ethnicity changed on official documents from “white” to “Native American” at the University of Pennsylvania and at Harvard University Law School when she taught there in the 1980s and 1990s.
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.
The Globe reviewed Warren’s hiring records in a broad investigation that included more than 100 interviews, and found no evidence that her heritage played a part in her rise in legal academia. She was viewed as a white female applicant, and not until she had been teaching at Penn for two years did she let the university change her designation to Native American. The law schools were happy to have her help boost their diversity numbers.
“My family is my family, but my background played no role in my getting hired anywhere,” Warren told the Globe for the investigative story published in September. She said she decided to identify herself as Native Americans as more of the matriarchs in her family began to die and she worried their lore and ancestry might be lost.
Warren has not been particularly fast to react to questions about her heritage. She admitted as much in an interview with CNN in September.
“I was a first-time candidate back in in 2012 and frankly just didn’t even have this basic information,” she said. “So got it all together, handed it over to the press, and said, there it is.”
What this has to do with 2020 and Trump
It’s been widely speculated for quite some time that Warren is gearing up for a potential 2020 run for the presidency, and the senator isn’t exactly doing a lot to tamp down the buzz.
Last month she said she would take a look at running for the White House after November, and the Washington Post reported over the weekend that Warren has built a sort of “shadow war room” designed to elect Democrats during the midterms that will further position her for a presidential bid.
“This is the kind of public servant I want to be — transparent,” Warren told the Globe last month.
A lot of her maneuvers appear to be an effort to position herself as a sort of antithesis to Trump — he hasn’t released his tax returns, has held onto his family business despite calls to divest, and his administration is under a constant cloud of corruption. He signed a sweeping tax bill that disproportionately benefits the wealthy and corporations, and he is consistently playing on Americans’ prejudices and fears about race.
In a speech earlier this year to the National Congress of American Indians, Warren addressed Trump’s attacks on her but also used the occasion to discuss the ways the American government has failed and harmed American Indians.
“Our country’s disrespect of native people didn’t start with President Trump. It started long before President Washington ever took office,” she said. “But now we have a president who can’t make it through a ceremony honoring Native American war heroes without reducing native history, native culture, native people to the butt of a joke. The joke, I guess, is supposed to be on me.”