Should We Be Mad at Elizabeth Warren?

Today, there was some news cycling in Indian Country. A group of over 200 Native Americans demanded Elizabeth Warren come out and say is not and never has been Native American.

This story keeps popping up, so I thought I’d address it. I think, if Elizabeth Warren comes out and says anything, it should be to clarify who and what a Native American is.

Unlike other so-called racial categories, being Native American–or, rather, being Cherokee or Choctaw–is a political affiliation. When you are Cherokee, you are a citizen (member) of a Cherokee tribal nation. This is different than being a racial group. Tribal nations have political sovereignty and citizens enjoy the rights and responsibilities of belonging to a particular nation.

When I queried a Native person I know about whether he was mad at Warren, he said, “No. Do you get mad when people claim to be white?” I said I didn’t, but I might think they are mistaken.

To my friend, getting mad or upset about such things seemed like a waste of time and energy.

Warren can address these issues by clearing up not only the fact that she is not a tribal citizen but also defining what it means to be Native American to a large audience. This way, she can clarify these things to people, many of whom also think, as the saying goes, that they have a Cherokee great-great-grandmother, which makes them Cherokee.

If Warren is the nominee, I will vote for her. As a white person, I know all too well the urge, especially for some and particularly in the recent past, to say one is Native American. Everyone seems to have a Cherokee great-great-grandmother. But I am not pissed off at Warren. I just think she’s mistaken. She should take this opportunity to clarify things to the masses. There’s too much misinformation about Native Americans as it is.

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