Sen. Elizabeth Warren rocked Washington yesterday with her response to President Trump’s insults about her Native American heritage, but the strike may have already backfired. With this move, Warren has not only failed to move the people on Trump’s side who’ve been mocking her claims to Native ancestry for years now, but she also faces a new wave of backlash, from both Republicans and prominent Native Americans.
Trump, who has repeatedly insulted Warren by calling her “Pocahontas,” made the bombastic claim that he would donate “a million dollars” to a charity of her choice if she took a DNA test. And yesterday, Warren took the bait, releasing a dramatic, five-minute video that revealed the results of a DNA test suggesting her lineage to a distant Native American ancestor. Based on the results, Warren had a distant Native American ancestor somewhere between six-to-10 generations before her, putting Warren between 1/32nd and 1/1024th Native American.
Conservative commentators, though, were quick to point out how inconsequential the stats looked in Warren’s favor.
It’s safe to say that those making these arguments aren’t acting in good faith, especially when considering the challenge posed by Warren’s increasingly likely presidential run. But with her choice to play on the critics’ field, she has already angered many in the Native American community, and may have set a precedent for the return of some seriously disturbing race-science concepts in political discourse.
Cherokee Nation Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr. also issued a blistering statement on the issue Monday, critiquing Warren’s use of a DNA test as a metric of Native tribal citizenship or identity:
A DNA test is useless to determine tribal citizenship. Current DNA tests do not even distinguish whether a person’s ancestors were indigenous to North or South America. Sovereign tribal nations set their own legal requirements for citizenship, and while DNA tests can be used to determine lineage, such as paternity to an individual, it is not evidence for tribal affiliation. 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, whose ancestors are well documented and whose heritage is proven. Senator Warren is undermining tribal interests with her continued claims of tribal heritage.
In light of this statement, Warren’s move looks particularly ill-advised on the heels of last week’s Supreme Court ruling on voter ID laws in North Dakota. The ruling allows the state to keep its discriminatory mailing address requirements, which would effectively disenfranchise most Native Americans living on reservations in the state, just weeks ahead of critical midterm elections.
Warren has since responded on Twitter, saying that only Tribal Nations should be allowed to make the distinction of Native affiliation, but the damage may already be done.
Warren’s latest move may prove to be a lethal one as she braces for her next step. Paste’s Shane Ryan has already explored the implications for the rest of her political career, including a potential presidential run against Trump in 2020.
Trump has already turned Warren’s misfire against her, throwing in a few uninspired jabs about how Harvard wouldn’t have hired her if she weren’t “a person of color.”
At a critical point in the Democratic Party’s fight against President Trump, Warren may have made a fatal misstep that helps to extend this ugly moment in American politics even longer.