Elizabeth Warren tries to quell DNA controversy with apology

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) speaks during a rally for airport workers affected by the government shutdown at Boston Logan International Airport on Jan. 21.
(Scott Eisen / Getty Images)

Democratic presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren attempted to put an early political stumble behind her by apologizing to the Cherokee Nation for using a DNA test to prove she’s part Native American.

“Sen. Warren has reached out to us and has apologized to the tribe,” Julie Hubbard, a spokeswoman for the Cherokee Nation, said Friday in an email. “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.”

Hubbard added that: “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.”

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The apology by the Massachusetts senator, first reported by the Intercept, followed criticism from some Native American groups and activists who said taking the DNA test and using the results to claim affiliation with them showed a lack of understanding about what constitutes Native American identity.

It also comes as Warren is getting a campaign underway for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020. An aide to Warren declined to comment.

When Warren released the genetic analysis in October, the Cherokee Nation and other critics called it “inappropriate and wrong,” saying that it undermined tribal interests for a white woman to claim native identity on the basis of blood and thereby imply she identifies with people whose ancestors were targeted for genocide.

Test results she released to the Boston Globe concluded there was “strong evidence” Warren had a Native American in her family tree dating six to 10 generations back.


President Trump has frequently ridiculed Warren for her claim of Native American heritage, calling her “Pocahontas” — a nickname that she and some Native Americans have called a slur. At a political rally in July, Trump told supporters he’d offer $1 million to the charity of Warren’s choice if a DNA test proved she had Native American blood. He subsequently said he’d only pay if he could “test her personally.”

Some Democratic activists said that it was a mistake for Warren to respond to him, arguing that the DNA test wasn’t going to quiet his mockery.

“She was likely damned if she did respond and damned if she didn’t,” said Neil Sroka, a spokesman for the progressive activist group Democracy for America. “It’s never too late to do the right thing and that’s exactly what Warren did” by apologizing, he said.