WASHINGTON – As the controversy continues to swirl around U.S. Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren’s self-reported Cherokee ancestry, she has dodged several interview requests from the Native American press.
A spokesman for the Warren campaign, Alethea Harney, said by telephone on May 15 that Warren would not do an interview with Indian Country Today Media Network at that time, but “want[ed] to keep the lines of communication open.”
ICTMN had by that point requested multiple interviews with Warren in order for her to clarify her statements on her ancestry, to explain how she highlighted that self-reported ancestry while working in academia, as well as to examine the fall-out that has occurred in Indian country regarding identity issues as her campaign fiasco has stayed in the news.
In the meantime, throughout the month of May, Warren continued to do interviews with the mainstream and local press, including national appearances on MSNBC.
On May 25, after several more requests from ICTMN, Harney responded by e-mail, “Thanks for your request(s)! I will keep you posted. Thanks for understanding. Have a wonderful weekend.”
To date, Warren has done no interviews with the American Indian press. There are dozens of tribal papers and national Native news outlets, including well-respected Cherokee outlets, that she could have reached out to in order to help calm the controversy and alleviate Native concerns about both her background and its impact on Indian citizens.
In response to initial questions raised about her heritage in late April and early May, Warren issued statements saying that she listed herself as minority in academic directories in order to try to network with people like her. However, after becoming a professor at Harvard Law School, she stopped listing herself in the directories.
Many Indians have asked why, if she wanted to meet people like her, didn’t she continue to list herself in the directories. Others have asked why she didn’t attend Native functions at Harvard if she wanted to meet people like her. Still others have asked whether she made attempts to directly reach out to the hundreds of Native faculty around the country. No evidence has come to light to date suggesting she took any of these actions.
Warren has now also failed to connect with American Indians through the Native media—which is sounding alarm bells for Native journalists.
“If she really wanted to include her Native heritage in this election, she should be talking to Native people through our Native media groups, so we can see what she has to say,” said Rhonda LeValdo-Gayton, president of the Native American Journalists Association. “It would also open up the communication lines so she can listen to what issues tribes need help on, get acquainted with the people, and to learn personal stories. I know personally, I am always willing to give an interview with our tribal media groups, do stories, whatever is needed to get those stories out there.”
LeValdo, an Acoma Pueblo citizen, has been taking note of complaints that Warren has not done interviews with the Native press to date.
“Like others before her and probably after her, she uses Native status for her own benefit,” added Ronnie Washines, past president of NAJA.
“Tribes can adopt presidents, adopt actors, and even allow people to have great-great grandparents who are Native, but call upon [the adoptees] to open up to Native media [and it] only compels them to revert to selective access,” said Washines, a Yakama Nation reporter and citizen.
Lori Edmo-Suppah, a Shoshone-Bannock tribal citizen and reporter, said that if Warren is Native, as she claims, “it seems the Native press would be the first she would want to do interviews with.”
Added Edmo-Suppah, “Mainstream media rarely understands the issue of Native identity, so it’s no surprise she seeks them first. It’s time she be honest about her background.”
In recent days, there have been plenty of revelations for Warren to elaborate on. Among them:
- The Boston Globe reported May 31 that Warren acknowledged for the first time “that she told Harvard University and the University of Pennsylvania that she was Native American, but she continued to insist that race played no role in her recruitment.” “At some point after I was hired by them, I … provided that information to the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard,’’ she said in a statement. “My Native American heritage is part of who I am, I’m proud of it and I have been open about it.’’ The paper noted that Warren’s statement is “her first acknowledgment that she identified herself as Native American to the Ivy League schools. While she has said she identified herself as a minority in a legal directory, she has carefully avoided any suggestion during the last month that she took further actions to promote her purported heritage.”
- “A group of Cherokees have organized and launched a website disputing Elizabeth Warren’s claims to Native American heritage,” Politico reported May 30. “Some 150 people purporting to be ‘concerned’ members and descendants of three Cherokee tribes have put up a new website called ‘Cherokees Demand Truth From Elizabeth Warren.’” Reflected Cherokee Nation citizen and group organizer David Cornsilk: “My mom called me David Crockett when I was little, because my name is David. That doesn’t mean I’m related to David Crockett. 1/32 Cherokee means that her great-great-great grandparent would have been a full-blood and if you have someone who’s a full blood, that means that that person’s entire lineage from that point backward are full-blood. And it would be extremely difficult, and in my opinion impossible, to have not had some of those family members captured within that wide net of historic records.”
- The New England Historic Genealogical Society issued a clarification May 15, saying the group has “no proof that Elizabeth Warren’s great-great-great-grandmother O.C. Sarah Smith either is or is not of Cherokee descent” and that the society “has not expressed a position on whether Mrs. Warren has Native American ancestry, nor do we possess any primary sources to prove that she is.”
- The Boston Globe noted the society’s clarification in a correction. The paper had taken used the association’s earlier statements as indicating that Warren was 1/32nd Cherokee, but no primary document has ever been found to support that notion. The paper’s reports were used by many other media outlets as evidence that Warren was definitively 1/32nd Cherokee.
- Cornell Law School professor William A. Jacobson has claimed that genealogical records show that Warren’s ancestry includes a great-great-great grandfather who helped round up Cherokees in the days leading to the Trail of Tears. Warren has not addressed that claim.
- Native educators have raised concerns about Harvard’s role in promoting Warren as Native without any supporting documentation, asking whether this action took a position away from any Native citizens who may have applied during the time of Warren’s tenure.