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McAngus: Warren can end Indian question

Published September 29, 2012 1:01 am
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Elizabeth Warren is running for the U.S. Senate in Massachusetts. As such she should expect to be scrutinized by her political opponents, who will use anything they can to attack her during the campaign.

Her biggest problem at the moment is that when she was a professor at Harvard, she declared herself a "woman of color," saying she was part Cherokee. Her opponents claim this is a lie, and have demanded evidence to support it. They accuse her of using this status to her advantage under Affirmative Action.

She has pointed to some evidence in support of her claim. She says she has "high cheekbones," that her grandparents told her stories about Cherokee relatives, and that she contributed to a family cookbook called Pow Wow Chow.

Genealogists and bloggers have scrutinized this evidence, and have found it wanting.

First, there is no public record supporting the claim that anyone in her family is a member of any Indian tribe. Second, the recipes in Pow Wow Chow seem to have been plagiarized from other sources. Third, her grandfather seems actually to have taken part in the roundup of Indians during the Trail of Tears.

Fourth, she claims to be as little as 1/32 Indian. Fifth, even the Indians have announced that she is not one of them. Several Indian people actually protested Warren when she appeared at the Democratic National Convention, calling on her to drop the claim and to "come clean."

Sixth, she obviously used her sham "minority" status to her advantage, thereby gaming the system, denying a similar opportunity to a true minority applicant (for whom the programs were intended) and committing an act of academic and professional dishonesty in submitting this obviously false claim. And so on.

But experts on the subject continue to advise caution. Those in the know are still waiting for definitive evidence to come out, and so far they haven't seen it.

For example: The lack of records on Indians is not unexpected. In many cases there simply are no records beyond 1850 or so: no birth certificates; marriage licenses; death warrants; Social Security numbers, etc.

Genealogists, who can sometimes be helpful, are not going to provide the final word in this case. Recipes handed down from grandma 100 years ago could well have come from a cookbook. Copyright laws may apply, but that does not mean she isn't an Indian.

Grandpa might have taken part in the roundup of Indians in 1838, but that doesn't mean he didn't have an Indian wife. Plenty of Cherokees supported removal, so by itself it means nothing. If she is only 1/32 Indian, does that mean she doesn't have a heritage?

Bear in mind that the "blood quantum" is an artificial construct invented by the government in order to keep track of who they owe money. That is the only reason they keep track of Indian "blood."

Some Cherokee and other Indians have called upon her to "come clean," but that isn't evidence one way or the other.

Elizabeth Warren may be a fake, and if she is, shame on her. But so far, the jury is still out.

She could put this to bed once and for all by getting a mitochondrial DNA test. This would reveal precisely how much Indian "blood" she inherited from her mother's side of the family.

It isn't hard. She could do it through the mail and have the results within two weeks. It doesn't hurt. It's just a cotton swab in the mouth.

Until then this issue will haunt her, and her opponents will use it to attack her.

Don MacAngus is an associate instructor at the University of Utah, a graduate of the S.J. Quinney College of Law, and a mixed-blood Cherokee.






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