Everyone knew Elizabeth Warren was planning on running for president. The release of her DNA results last year was clearly a transparent publicity stunt for her presidential campaign. This is precisely the reason I won’t be supporting her presidential campaign.
As president of Wellesley’s Native American Student Association, I have made my views well known on campus. When I published an article about Warren’s ancestry claims last year, I received emails telling me that there are “bigger issues at hand,” and that my message caused a “distraction from the real issues.”
It is beyond disrespectful to Native Americans to suggest that our backlash against Sen. Warren is nothing more than a “distraction,” as though our opinions don’t matter. By releasing her DNA results, Sen. Warren added to the cheapening of Native American ancestry, where people claim Native ancestry because they perceive it as exotic, or as a way of denying their role in perpetuating America’s cultural erasure of Indigenous peoples. In other words, Sen. Warren is participating in forms of erasure and white supremacy. She is also perpetuating the antiquated concept of “racial blood.” Ancestry is not race, genetics are not culture and you cannot self-identify as Native. Warren also often draws on racist stereotypes to claim Native heritage, saying that she knew her grandfather was Cherokee because of his “high cheekbones,” playing into the common assumption that all Native Americans look a certain way. This damages those of us who do not look stereotypically Native.
The criticism I have received also plays into a larger trend where people refuse to call out Warren because she might defeat Trump in the upcoming presidential election. However, you can support a candidate and still acknowledge their shortcomings. She deserves heavy criticism for her fetishization of Native ancestry and her use of ancestry claims to get what she wants — in this case the presidency of the United States. I would ask Warren’s supporters to think about the troubling double standard that has emerged from all of this: although there is no concrete proof that Warren ever benefited from her claims of Native Ancestry, she is still a white woman who spent many years claiming to be a race that she is not. Can you imagine if Warren had claimed to be black? Would anyone still come to her aid? There is a clear double standard, and liberals who defend Warren must be honest with themselves. Do Native Americans matter to you?
Warren has a long history of ignoring Native Americans. Where was she during the Dakota Access Pipeline protests when Native Americans were being shot with rubber bullets, freezing water and grenades? Her silence is especially problematic because she has been claiming Native ancestry for decades; she identified herself as “American Indian” on her 1986 Texas Bar Association Card, and listed as Native in several legal directories.
It is wrong to falsely claim to be a racial minority, and Warren’s self-identification as Native is a concept rooted in white supremacy and colonialism. In fact, it is the ultimate colonialist act, wherein everything Native is claimed by the colonizer — first our land, then our resources and finally our identities. Warren’s behavior proves that she is an opportunistic white woman who used her supposed Native ancestry when it was convenient for her to do so, without caring about the people whose culture she claims as her own while fetishizing and exploiting it.
And yet Warren’s supporters have somehow painted her as a victim in all of this. When Warren gets called “Pocahontas” by President Trump, her supporters rush to her aid. Where are Warren’s supporters when real Native women are called racial slurs? Native women being called racial slurs is a form of violence rooted in white supremacy, as are the disproportionately high numbers of sexual assault against Native women. Again, where are Warren’s supporters when 84 percent of Native women are sexually assaulted, with a high percentage of their assaults going uninvestigated or unprosecuted? Warren is not the real victim of Trump’s remarks — real Native Americans are. Her supporters need to stop portraying her as a victim, and they need to stop pretending that she hasn’t also perpetrated racism against Native Americans. Warren is in fact partly to blame for Trump’s racist remarks because she opened the gate for Trump to spew his rhetoric.
Vote for whomever you want in the 2020 elections, but start holding Warren accountable for her actions. For many years Native Americans have asked Warren to stop claiming Native ancestry, and yet it took her until 2019 to rescind her claims and apologize. It is also worth noting that she publicly apologized for her claims only after she announced her bid for the presidency, making her apology seem like nothing more than another publicity stunt for her campaign. Warren did not apologize because she harmed the Native community. Rather, she apologized because she had to in order to further her bid for the presidency. Warren has been doing real harm to the Native community for decades, and her decision to release her DNA results only damaged us further. Her apology is too little too late.