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Elizabeth Warren again is pressed on past claims of Native American heritage

Adam Elmahrek, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

More than 200 Cherokees and other Native Americans have signed a letter urging Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren to fully retract her past claims to being Native and help dispel false beliefs held by many white people that they have American Indian ancestry.

The letter cites a Los Angeles Times investigation that found more than $800 million in government contracts reserved for minorities instead went to companies set up by members of groups with dubious claims to being Cherokee and Creek Indian tribes.

The letter describes The Times' findings as an example of the harm done when white people rely on family lore and DNA tests to falsely assert Native American identity.

The criticism comes at an awkward time for Warren. The Massachusetts senator did not win any of the first three states in the nominating calendar and faces an uphill battle in the South Carolina primary this Saturday.

In response, Warren sent a 12-page letter to the Cherokee authors on Tuesday night. Her letter repeated past apologies, reiterated that she is a "white woman" and detailed a policy agenda that she said was good for Indian Country.

"I was wrong to have identified as a Native American, and, without qualification or excuse, I apologize," she wrote. Warren's campaign provided a copy to The Times.


She also distanced herself from the cases cited in The Times investigation, which she called an "injustice." She said her "situation differs from these cases because I never benefited financially or professionally," and cited a Boston Globe story that concluded her past identification as Native American never boosted her career.

Warren previously apologized for claiming to be Native American, and for publicizing the results of DNA test that showed she likely had a distant ancestor indigenous to the Americas. She has apologized to the chief of the Cherokee Nation, has said she is not a member of a tribe and expressed regret over causing "confusion" about tribal membership.

But the authors of the letter -- Cherokee Nation citizens Daniel Heath Justice, Joseph Pierce, Rebecca Nagle and Twila Barnes -- called those apologies "vague and inadequate." They say she needs to state clearly that family stories she heard were false, and that it is wrong to use DNA tests to determine Native American identity.

"As the most public example of this behavior, you need to clearly state that Native people are the sole authority on who is -- and who is not -- Native," wrote the authors, who are Cherokee citizens but don't speak on behalf of the tribe.


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