In his most direct shots against U.S. Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren, U.S. Sen. Scott Brown, R-Massachusetts, challenged her claims of Native American heritage in their first debate on the evening of September 20—and the shots kept coming from his campaign after the debate ended.
Kicking off a lively one-on-one in Boston, Brown looked at Warren squarely, and said she had presented no evidence to show she has Cherokee and Delaware ancestry, which she has claimed for years sans any tribal enrollment or genealogical evidence. She has relied on family folklore to back up her claim, but genealogists, including Indian ones, who have researched the lore have found no blood ties that would indicate she is any part Native.
“She checked the box claiming she is Native American, and clearly she is not…. I think character is important," Brown said. “You refuse to release your records, and I think that speaks volumes.”
Warren responded that she has answered all questions about her claimed heritage, and she believes the election should be focused on jobs and taxes.
“I never used it, never used it for getting into college, never used it for getting into law school,” Warren said. “There’s nothing else there, the question has been asked and answered. I think the senator just doesn’t like the answer.”
But all was not settled. Brown’s campaign manager Jim Barnett kept the hits coming after the debate, telling Indian Country Today Media Network, “Tonight, Elizabeth Warren claimed that being Native American was part of who she is, and ‘it’s not going to change.’ Her problem is that she has changed who she claims to be repeatedly. For years she checked the box that she was white. Then when she started looking for jobs in the Ivy League, she suddenly claimed she was minority. And once she reached the pinnacle of academia with a tenured position at Harvard, she went back to listing herself as white.”
Warren has been a professor of law at Harvard Law School since the early 1990s. Early on there, she listed herself as Native, and Harvard promoted her in publications as such. Later, she quietly stopped listing herself that way, but Harvard continued to say it had a Native faculty member.
Barnett says Harvard holds responsibility here, too: “Harvard filed federal reports that relied on Professor Warren’s misrepresentations. It should correct those records and take appropriate action to protect its reputation.” American Indian scholars have said they are disappointed that Warren took a spot on the Harvard faculty as a Native that a Native with documented roots could have taken.
Barnett added that Warren “could help put this controversy to rest by releasing her personnel records from Harvard just like Scott Brown released his complete National Guard personnel file,” but she “refuses to do that and her decision to withhold this information tells you all you need to know.”
While Warren and her campaign have downplayed the importance of this Native identity issue, Brown says it speaks directly to her character, and polls have indicated that it matters to independent voters. With the race currently very close between the candidates, with polls alternating who is in the lead by the day, every vote here will matter, experts say.
Warren has done little to help calm the controversy, instead always sticking to her story on family lore. She has chosen not to do interviews with the Native press, has ignored visits and inquiries from Cherokees, and she refused to meet with Native American delegates at the Democratic National Convention earlier this month. Her campaign did not respond to questions from Indian Country Today Media Network after the debate.
In recent days, some relatives of Elizabeth Warren have told The Boston Globe that they share none of her remembrance of Indian ancestry, while others cited the same lore she has relied on. Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, and former chair of the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, also recently called her claim “bizarre. … I know lots and lots of Native Americans, they have a very huge presence in my state and I’ve yet to meet one of them who claims to be related to Elizabeth Warren,” McCain told The Boston Herald earlier this week.
Watch the Full Debate Below: