Reportedly planning to make her presidential bid official this month, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren has apologized to the Cherokee Nation for publicizing a DNA test that shows she has distant Native American ancestors, tribal officials confirmed to the Tulsa World.
The Massachusetts Democrat, who was raised in Oklahoma, had a “brief and private” phone conversation Thursday with Principal Chief Bill John Baker, according to a spokeswoman for the tribe.
“We are encouraged by this dialogue and understanding that being a Cherokee Nation tribal citizen is rooted in centuries of culture and laws, not through DNA tests,” said Julie Hubbard, the tribe’s executive director of communications. “We are encouraged by her action and hope that the slurs and mockery of tribal citizens and Indian history and heritage will now come to an end.”
Critics have accused the Massachusetts Democrat, who was raised in Oklahoma, of advancing her career by claiming Cherokee heritage. And President Donald Trump has repeatedly mocked his potential 2020 challenger by calling her “Pocahontas,” going so far as to offer $1 million to a charity of her choice if she took a DNA test that proved her claim.
Partly in response to that challenge, Warren took a DNA test and released the results in October, showing that she does appear to have a Native American ancestor in the distant past. Experts determined that the ancestor came “in the range of six to 10 generations ago,” according to the DNA report.
The Cherokee Nation described Warren’s DNA test at the time as “inappropriate and wrong.”
“It makes a mockery out of DNA tests and its legitimate uses while also dishonoring legitimate tribal governments and their citizens, whose ancestors are well documented and whose heritage is proven,” Cherokee Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr. said last year. “Senator Warren is undermining tribal interests with her continued claims of tribal heritage.”
Hoskins reiterated the tribe’s objections this week by writing an opinion column for the Tulsa World, comparing Warren’s claim of Native ancestry to a family friend who oversteps boundaries by claiming to be an actual member of the family.
“We know that many people across the nation have treasured family stories about having Native lineage,” Hoskins wrote. “There is nothing wrong with being proud of that. However, every day, people make claims of Native heritage and Cherokee ancestry across the country to take advantage of laws intended to level the playing field for Indian Country.”
Each tribe establishes its own criteria for citizenship, Hoskins noted. The Cherokee Nation, the largest tribe in the country, with more than 370,000 citizens, requires that a citizen be a direct descendant of someone listed on the Dawes Rolls, a sort of census taken of the Cherokee Nation between 1899 and 1906.
“While we appreciate the affinity many Americans have for the family lore of Native ancestry,” Hoskins wrote this week, “stating, ‘My grandmother was Cherokee’ or citing vague results of a consumer DNA test do us harm and in no way confers the full rights and responsibilities of tribal citizenship.”
He also criticized Trump, however, for mocking Warren.
“Our heritage should not be used as fodder for political derision or mockery,” Hoskins said.
The Intercept, a liberal online publication, reported Thursday night that Warren will officially announce her candidacy this month.