Elizabeth Warren, who is on the verge of formally announcing a presidential bid, apologized on Tuesday for ever having identified as American Indian.
“I can’t go back,” Warren said in an interview with the Washington Post. “But I am sorry for furthering confusion on tribal sovereignty and tribal citizenship and harm that resulted.”
At the same time, the Post discovered unequivocal proof that the senator had formally identified as Native American in paperwork decades ago, as she had written, by hand, “American Indian” in the “Race” field in a 1986 form for the State Bar of Texas. The form reads: “The following information is for statistical purposes only and will not be disclosed to any person or organization without the express written consent of the attorney.”
Conservative critics have long accused Warren of lying about her race to take advantage of affirmative action opportunities. While it has been confirmed that Warren, over two decades, identified at times in paperwork as American Indian, there’s no clear indication she ever benefited from it. Around the time she filled out the Texas bar registration, she was first listed as a “minority” by the Association of American Law Schools. Between 1986 and 1995, she reported herself as a minority law professor for the group’s directory. In 1989, she began to be listed as Native American while working at the University of Pennsylvania, and in 1995 she approved her listing as Native American at Harvard Law School, which included her in its federal affirmative action forms until 2004. An investigation by the Boston Globe found that Warren was considered white when hired at the two universities, and she has in the past refused to say whether she or an assistant filled out the forms.
Warren had long claimed a Cherokee ancestor, based on family lore. (She once listed herself as Cherokee in a local Oklahoma cookbook titled Pow Wow Chow.) In October, after a number of racist taunts by President Trump (who mocked her with the slur “Pocahontas”) and years of scornful jokes by allies of former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown, Warren released the results of a DNA test showing she did have a Native American ancestor.
Rather than appease her critics, the move angered Native Americans and other social justice advocates, who said she gave credence to the dangerous notion that tribal affiliation could be determined by genetics (it cannot) and disrespected the long tradition of tribes determining their own membership based on record-keeping.
Warren weathered the backlash for a few months, but last week, she formally apologized to Bill John Baker, the principal chief of the Cherokee Nation. Reports at the time suggested she was apologizing for taking and publicizing the DNA test. She clarified Monday on CNN that she had apologized more broadly for the confusion she may have caused over issues of tribal citizenship and tribal sovereignty “and also for not being more mindful of that decades ago.” On Tuesday, she told the Post she intended the apology to include not just the DNA test but her decision in the first place to label herself as American Indian decades ago. It was the first time she had said she was sorry for claiming Cherokee heritage.