If U.S. Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren was telling the truth back in May when she said that she listed herself as an American Indian minority in order “to find some more people like me” while a professor from 1986 to 1995, she seems to have altogether abandoned that mission. That’s the conclusion of a group of four Cherokee women who are traveling in Massachusetts this week with the intent of meeting with the candidate to talk about her unproven claims of Indian ancestry and her understanding of tribal issues. During their time in Boston, Warren has dodged them – much to the delight of local press pointing out the oddness of the situation – and her campaign has labeled them as out-of-staters cavorting with extremists.
“The out-of-state group in question is being promoted and supported by a right-wing extremist who is on the record supporting and contributing money to Scott Brown,” Warren spokeswoman Alethea Harney told The Boston Herald in an article published on June 20. “It is past time we moved on to the important issues facing middle-class families in Massachusetts — even if Scott Brown won’t.”
Harney has not responded to requests for comment from Indian Country Today Media Network since the publication reported on May 31 that Warren and her campaign have dodged the Native press on several questions, while attempting to label Indian concerns as nonissues. She had told ICTMN earlier in May that the campaign wanted “to keep the lines of communication open,” but has since gone silent.
The Herald, which broke the story of Warren’s ancestry claims on April 27, reports that the extremist Harney told them she was referring to is Cornell University Law Professor William Jacobson, who runs the conservative blog Legal Insurrection and who contributed $500 to Brown during the special Senate election in the state in 2010. Jacobson has said he has helped the local media get in touch with the Cherokee women.
Twila Barnes, a Cherokee genealogist who has found no evidence that Warren is Cherokee as she claims, is outraged by the campaign’s assertions about her group’s travels.
“We don’t need a John Smith,” Barnes told ICTMN on June 20 via telephone. “We are smart Native women who did this on our own, and we are plenty smart enough to figure out that Warren has been less than truthful and now doesn’t want to talk about it. She doesn’t want to give us Native women that credit, yet she calls herself a Native woman. That’s just wrong.”
The Cherokee group of women, which include Barnes, Ellen Goss, and Ali Sacks from out of state, as well as Sky Davis, an Eastern Band citizen who lives in the state, denied they’ve received financial support from Jacobson, and they say they tend to lean left politically. They deny that the Brown campaign orchestrated their visit, and the women say they have partially paid for this visit through fundraising on Facebook and personal funding.
“We simply wanted this to be an educational visit for Warren and for everyone,” Barnes says. “Many non-Cherokee people don’t understand how many people falsely claim to be Cherokee. We wanted to share with people that we’re not just something from history, we are here, and we want to confront people like Warren in a civil way.”
Barnes says given the statement from the campaign casting them as out-of-state-extremists, she feels it is obvious that Warren will not meet with them. She says the candidate is missing out on a major opportunity to discuss issues that face Indians, including poverty, violence against women, and lacking healthcare.
“Elizabeth Warren calls herself a Native American and calls herself a Cherokee, but she doesn’t really seem to care about us,” Barnes says.
The Warren camp originally told The Herald on June 17 that its staff would meet with the Cherokee visitors, but Barnes shares that the campaign never followed through on that promise, especially after media outlets got word of their visit.
Barnes also commented on why she believes some Massachusetts Indians are choosing to be quiet about the scandal: “They might be afraid that Warren will win, and they will have to consider what is politically best for their tribes.”
Adds Barnes, “Almost all Cherokees I know vote Democratic, but that doesn’t mean this issue should allow us to sacrifice our integrity. We’re Cherokee first; if we don’t stand up, no one else will.”
Some Natives feel Warren is aggravating an already sensitive situation by having her campaign say that this is a non-issue because many Indians feel her self-identification is a crucial issue that speaks to her character and to how she understands Indian issues, which would be an important part of her job if elected to Congress.
“Elizabeth Warren has avoided taking responsibility for her false ethnic claims by avoiding a group of Cherokee women who traveled hundreds of miles just to spend time with her,” says David Cornsilk, a United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians citizen, who has created a Facebook group drawing attention to the Warren controversy. “Warren claimed she wanted to meet others like herself while claiming to be a Cherokee, yet when presented with the chance to actually talk to four authentic Cherokee women representing membership in all three of the federally recognized Cherokee tribes; she flees like a scared rabbit.”
Cornsilk, the managing editor of the independent Cherokee Observer newspaper, says that the campaign has made matters worse by denouncing the visitors: “Rather than recognizing the fact that someone might have the intelligence and wherewithal to come to their own conclusions about her claim and pay their own way to visit her, Warren resorts to the oldest political tactic in her book of dirty politics, by denouncing her visitors as extremists, paid shills of her opponent’s campaign or worse still, incapable of thinking on their own.”
Some Indians are also disappointed to see some major Democrats including Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick concur with Warren’s mishandling: “The Massachusetts Democratic Party discarded the other Democrat without a vote of the people,” Cornsilk says, referring to Warren’s former Democratic challenger Marisa DeFranco who was pushed out of the race during the state convention in early June. “They might want to reconsider that process in the future.”
For now, the Cherokee women are undeterred. Barnes says that the group will stay in Massachusetts through the end of the week. The Brown campaign has already met with them to discuss their concerns. Its manager also did an interview with ICTMN in an article published June 1 to discuss the Warren issue, and his office responded to questions about Brown’s record on tribal issues.
Barnes notes, too, that Warren’s birthday is June 22, and the group has a “personal Cherokee gift” they plan to somehow share with her, perhaps at a campaign event on June 21.
“Indians will get it right away,” Barnes says of the gift. “Real Indians will get it right away.”