Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) has declared herself vindicated for a decades-long claim to be Cherokee, thanks to a DNA test she ordered in response to taunts from President Donald Trump, in another signal that the former professor is gearing up for a 2020 presidential run.
According to Warren’s own DNA test, she has, at best, 1/64th Native American ancestry, but it could also be as low as 1/1,024. Percentage-wise, she can claim somewhere between 0.1 percent to 1.56 percent Native lineage.
The minimum requirement to claim membership in most Native American tribes ranges from 1/8 (12.5 percent) to 1/2 (50 percent). A few tribes have a minimum requirement of 1/16 (six percent).
The Boston Globe, a newspaper that has spent years trying to protect Warren on this issue (and has already had to issue a correction on this piece for overstating Warren’s Indian ancestry), broke the details of Warren’s DNA test and analysis Monday morning. The article’s author, Annie Linsky, similarly provided cover for Warren’s past in September with a story declaring: “her claim to Native American ethnicity was never considered by the Harvard Law faculty… At every step of her remarkable rise in the legal profession, the people responsible for hiring her saw her as a white woman.”
However, Linsky admits, Warren changed her ethnicity from “white” to “Native American” both at University of Pennsylvania Law School, where she taught from 1987 to 1995, and at Harvard Law School, where she had tenure starting in 1995.
Assuming this DNA test is accurate, Warren can still make no claim to membership in a Cherokee tribe. The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians has a minimum threshold of 1/16 “blood quantum,” and the United Keetowah Band’s threshold is 1/4 blood quantum. The Cherokee Nation does not have any minimum threshold for ancestry, but for membership, it does require that an individual “provide documents that connect you to a direct ancestor listed on one of the Dawes Final Rolls of Citizens of the Cherokee Nation.” The Dawes Rolls do not include any of Warren’s ancestors.
The Globe’s front-page headline, which Warren shared on social media to declare victory for herself, reads: “Warren reveals test confirming ancestry,” without accounting for these caveats.
Warren’s expert analyst Bustamante concludes that “the vast majority” of Warren’s ancestry is European but said evidence “support the existence of an unadmixed Native American ancestor.”
However, there is no proof of her specific claim to be part Cherokee.
Much of Warren’s claim to American Indian heritage was debunked in 2014 when official documents, including a marriage certificate, appeared to prove that Warren’s story about her parents being forced to elope due to her mother’s Indian heritage was not true.
In 2012, Warren told the Boston Globe, “My father’s family so objected to my mother’s Native American heritage that my mother told me they had to elope.” But there appears to be a marriage certificate and contemporaneous press accounts of Warren’s parents having a Methodist wedding in 1932 — which would mean there was no elopement.
Warren has also claimed her great-great-great-grandmother, O.C. Sarah Smith, was part American Indian. The Boston Globe, however, reports that Smith “identified as white in historical documents.”
The Globe adds that “at the time Indians faced discrimination, and Smith would have had strong incentives to call herself white if possible.” According to the Atlantic, “O.C. Sarah Smith died long before the [Dawes] rolls were drawn up, too far in the past to make Warren eligible for membership in the tribe (assuming Smith was Cherokee).”