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Don’t Blame Elizabeth Warren

Lest you believe that this is an endorsement for a political candidate, be assured that it is far too early for any of us to focus on any individual candidate or choose among those running for office.

However, I want to defend candidate Elizabeth Warren’s assertion that she has Native American heritage. Why would I support her claim? Let me explain.

All of my childhood, as far back as I can recall, my siblings and I were told by our parents that we are of Scottish, Irish, English, Dutch and Native American descent, about 1/64th, specifically Cherokee. I too could profess to be at least partially Native American, if this were true.

However, research using Ancestry.com reveals a different analysis. It appears that my family on both sides are mostly English. There is no hint of Native American blood.

It reminds me of all those folks who claim that this or that ancestor came to America on the “Mayflower” in the 1620’s. Since that ship was only 80 ft. in length (of which about 12 feet at the back was off-limits to passengers) and 24 ft. wide and held 102 passengers and 37 crew members and captain, one logically fails to see how all those alleged passengers would fit in the living space thought to be about 58 ft. by 24 feet.

But, of course, we believed our parents’ version of our ancestry. After all, they are our parents. Was the explanation of our heritage folklore, passed down through the generations, or was it fact?

At that time, no one knew. We’d never had occasion, opportunity, or requirement to prove or disprove the source of this assertion. Likewise, Sen. Warren believed her parents when told that her great-great-great grandmother, O. C. Sarah Smith was “at least partially” Native American.

Questions over Sen. Warren’s ethnicity have persisted for a number of years from references of her ethnicity claim as a Native American at Harvard Law School and the University of Pennsylvania Law School.

She was alleged to have portrayed herself as a Native American to garner gains from affirmative action, the practice of law, or academia—none of which were supported by colleagues with whom she worked, according to The Boston Globe reports.

Her explanations for identifying as a Native American were that she had believed her family stories, as most of us do, and she did not want her family history to be lost.

Although I am not currently and have never been a high-profile individual, If I were to assert that I have Native American blood, the focus would be on proving that this were true.

Proof, in Sen. Warren’s case, was provided by a DNA test administered by Stanford University professor Carlos D. Bustamante, “one of the leading DNA analysts in the world” that “provided strong evidence of Indian blood.” According to the Boston Globe, (October, 2018), Sen. Warren’s DNA provided “evidence on five parts of the test that she had a Native American ancestor.”

Professor Bustamante also found that while Sen. Warren’s ancestry is “mostly European: she had 12 times more Indian blood than a white person from Great Britain, and 10 times more than a white person from Utah.”

Despite the DNA test providing evidence of Sen. Warren’s Native American heritage, there will continue to be non-believers. In the last analysis, does it really matter what percentage of Sen. Warren is Native American? Would a larger percentage of Native American blood entitle her to special standing within the Cherokee or Delaware tribes?

“The subjects of genuine American Indian blood, cultural connection and recognition by the community are extremely contentious issues, hotly debated throughout Indian country and beyond. The whole situation, some say, is ripe for misinterpretation, confusion and, ultimately, exploitation” Wikipedia.

To quiet the noise and show the public that she overstated the degree to which she is Native American, and the inference that others made that she was a citizen of a tribe, Warren apologized to the American people and the Cherokee Nation “for not being more sensitive to tribal citizenship and tribal sovereignty”, but added “this is our family story. We learned about our family history the way most people do.”

Some in the American Indian community were disturbed by Warren’s claim of Indian ancestry. Most of us would like to put the matter to rest. After Warren’s apology, Keith Harper, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation and a former U.S. ambassador to the Human Rights Council tweeted, “This closes the matter, Onward.” Let us hope that this is true.

Contact Dr. Thompson at caroltmcc@comcast.net

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