Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) is struggling to gain the trust of Native American critics, despite apologizing for making “mistakes” in the past.
While Warren seems to be skyrocketing in the polls – overtaking Joe Biden (D) and tying with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) for first place nationally in the Monmouth University Poll released Monday – she is still struggling to win the support of Native American critics, who are hesitant to accept the apologies related to her false claims of heritage.
Politico spoke to some of Warren’s Native American critics, and while some say they will not be able to vote for her in either the primary or general election (in the event she becomes the Democrat nominee), others are waiting to see if Warren can demonstrate that she truly understands why her false claims are problematic.
“It’s a good strategy for her, but it doesn’t address the central issue of Cherokee sovereignty: How will you repair the harm you have caused? She has not even admitted what that harm was,” Cherokee citizen and educator Joseph Pierce said.
Cherokee journalist Rebecca Nagle tweeted Warren should have said this instead: “My family and I are White.” It was “my privilege to never question what my parents told me.” And “those of us who falsely claim Native identity undermine this fight” for sovereignty.
Nagle expressed her views in a HuffPost op-ed last week and demanded Warren recognize her family history, citing reports that some of Warren’s family members were purportedly “white squatters” on Cherokee land. There is also speculation that some of Warren’s great-great-great-grandfathers participated in the Trail of Tears. Nagle called on Warren to, once and for all, “state she does not have a Cherokee ancestor and that she was wrong to claim one” – something she has yet to do.
“What I fear most is that if she does become the nominee, then it’s going to be this ugly front-and-center issue where basically Native identity is going to be weaponized,” Nagle told Politico.
“If Warren doesn’t take care of this issue in the primary stage, I don’t think she’s going to be able to handle it in a general election against Trump,” she added.
In the Native American community, members say they are increasingly worried about tribal sovereignty. They say people still misunderstand Native identity as a race instead of a political status. And they’re irked about loose definitions that lead to scandals such as the one unearthed by a recent L.A. Times investigation that found white entrepreneurs claiming Cherokee heritage had won over $300 million in contracts meant for minority-owned businesses.
That’s why Warren’s heritage claim is an issue, said Twila Barnes, a well-known Cherokee genealogist who first looked into the senator’s ancestry seven years ago.
“She put it on the national stage. It focuses on her. She’s a public face of it,” Barnes said.
Some Native American activists are giving Warren the benefit of the doubt and praising her massive plan focusing on “honoring and empowering tribal nations and Indigenous peoples”:
Julian Brave NoiseCat, member of the Canim Lake Band Tsq’escen, has applauded Warren for rebuilding relationships in the Native community. He found it encouraging the senator opened with an apology last Monday and used the term “harm.”
“Some of the things people want her to say — it’s hard for me to imagine any politician saying that verbatim,” he said. “We should stop providing fodder to that. You don’t have to vote for her.”
Gyasi Ross, a member of the Blackfeet Nation, told The Stranger, a Seattle-based alternative newspaper, that Warren’s robust policy platform “rights so many wrongs, if it’s executed properly, of course.”
Despite that, Republican critics, particularly, predict the “Pocahontas” issue will persist if Warren secures the Democrat nomination.
“If she’s the nominee and says, ‘Trump’s dishonest,’ that’s just the immediate counter: You’re dishonest about the most fundamental thing, who you were and how you got to your positions,” Republican strategist Chuck Warren said, according to Politico Magazine.
“She’s never given the answer to the core of the Trump charge, which is: She cheated. She cheated for personal gain. She hasn’t answered that part of the attack,” Republican consultant Dan Hazelwood added, echoing Nagle’s concerns.
The Massachusetts senator spoke at the Native American Presidential Forum last week and apologized to the crowd for making “mistake,” but she kept the apology very general.
“Like anyone who’s been honest with themselves, I know that I have made mistakes,” Warren told the crowd. “I am sorry for harm I have caused.”
“I have listened and I have learned a lot, and I am grateful for the many conversations we have had together,” she added:
Warren faced a similar situation last month after a town hall attendee in New Hampshire asked Warren how she can “overcome the bridge with voters,” given her past claims. While Warren admitted that she is a “not a person of color” nor “a citizen of a tribe,” she failed to take total responsibility, attributing her claims to Native American heritage to family stories– family stories which she, evidently, did not bother to look into before identifying as a full-fledged Native American woman.
“Like most people, my brothers and I learned about who we are from our mom and our dad. My family’s very important to me, and based on that, sometimes, decades ago, I identified that way,” Warren said.
“But nothing about the way I identified ever had anything to do with my academic career,” she added.