Update: The Racist Assault on Elizabeth Warren

Senator Scott Brown has called on his likely opponent Elizabeth Warren to release documents from her days at Law School to settle questions on her ancestry.

Brown’s call follows a fortnight of right-wing media assaults on Warren, ones which the Native American Journalists Association says “has resulted in a series of disrespectful headlines and puns that show disregard for Native Americans and our history.”

At question is whether Warren’s listing as a minority, as Native American, at Harvard Law School benefit her career there, in particular her initial hiring.

Warren has said that she is 1/32nd Cherokee — something which some have mocked, yet the leader of the Cherokee Nation also has the same blood quantum. But the Brown campaign says:

Serious questions have been raised about the legitimacy of Elizabeth Warren’s claims to Native American ancestry and whether it was appropriate for her to assume minority status as a college professor.

Such comments by the Brown campaign have led some Native Americans to accuse them of pandering to racism.

But some Native Americans are also questioning Warren’s history over whether it was appropriate for her to claim minority status when she was a professor when she was not an enrolled tribal citizen, and whether at the time she had genealogical evidence. Native Americans also want to know whether someone else was passed over when Warren was hired by Harvard in the 1980s. Warren’s May 2 press conference in which she referred to her grandfather’s “high cheekbones” has also upset some Native Americans.

Said one Native American commentator:

Just to think that we’re so fictionalized and cartoonsque that she can give “ high cheek bone” explanation and voila you’re an Indian. Out of her own mouth in her recent interviews she makes it demonstrably evident she doesn’t have a clue what it means to an Indian.

Warren’s campaign have dismissed the Brown campaign’s call to release her records as ‘distracting Massachusetts voters from more important issues’ but have also refused to talk to Native American media. Warren has said that she listed herself in Harvard’s directory as Native American in part in the hope of meeting others like herself but when that didn’t happen, she de-listed herself. Warren says she was qualified for her position, and the Native aspect didn’t play a role in her hiring, which has been backed up by the Harvard officials who hired her.

Writing for Indian Country Today, Rob Capriccioso explains why Native Americans are not dismissing the questions over Warren’s ancestry on her say so — because of “the cautionary tale of Ward Churchill.”

The former professor of ethnic studies at the University of Colorado-Boulder was once praised in Native circles for his work to extinguish racist notions about Indians in American society. With his long, straight hair and angular features, he was a major star in academia until the mid-2000s, when a drumbeat of questions over his research and his Native heritage resulted in both his college firing him and the tribe he had claimed to have been a citizen of, the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians, renouncing his claim. He was officially fired, the college said, for research misconduct, and he has since waged legal battles to have his position restored—all the while never being able to prove he is any part Indian.

That recent history led the Osage Nation to issue a statement, ‘Identity and Academic Integrity’:

“Too often, we realize, American Indian studies as a field of academic inquiry has failed to live up to its potential at least in part because of the presence of scholars who misrepresent themselves and their ties to the Native world,” it says.

What appears to have happened is that Harvard promoted the fact of her ancestry to show they were diverse, but this raises questions about what they are actually doing for Native American scholars and scholarship. In reaction to the controversy, Native American scholars have pointed to the example of their long complaint that Harvard has failed to hire a permanent scholar to fill the School’s Oneida Indian Nation Professorship of Law, which has received substantial financial support from the Oneida Indian Nation of New York, but sat vacant since 2003.

In her senior position in the world of academia, Native American scholars say it would have been desirable and appropriate for Warren to learn more about her roots before checking any boxes.

But Warren appears to be avoiding the concerns of Native Americans, who are stuck between a Brown campaign evidently using them and pandering to racist sentiment and a Democratic candidate who is not seeking any help or advice from them either.

As usual, actual Native Americans and their views seem to be invisible in this episode and Elizabeth Warren is not helping either them or herself.

Related stories:

The Racist Assault on Elizabeth Warren

Brown, Warren Both Produce Commercials Using…Obama?

Warren Doubles Brown’s 1st Quarter Fundraising Total

Caricature by DonkeyHotey


Mike D.
Mike D.5 years ago

It was absolutely racist. But thats what the Koch driven Tea Party does. They are hateful, racist, and absolutely uninformed.


Shirley Hill
Shirley Hill5 years ago

Jeez Louise!
Elizabeth Warren is in trouble with the RNC and potential electorate because she believed that her great-great-great grandmother O.C.Smith told the truth about being Cherokee ???!!!! Because Elizabeth Warren didn't have her great-great-great grandmother thoroughly investigated ???? wtf! Maybe have her granny exhumed and tested by CSI???
If you can't trust your granny, who can you trust?
Kudos to Elizabeth for honoring her granny's claim.
Most of us white folks are too racist to acknowlege the multicolors of our real backgrounds.

William C.
William C.5 years ago

"You see this as a way to attack her. Dems just defend her whatever happens. Who gets left out on this? Native Americans. I have yet to see the MSM make any effort - including the sainted Maddow - to source Native American opinion."

What does their opinion matter?

Facts matter, and the lack of facts on either side should make this issue moot... but somebody's behind it and pushing.

You act as if the Native Americans are getting shafted (again!), but this isn't even real issue.

This is a Carl Rove attack, and you're either in on it, or profiting from it.

Don H.
Don H5 years ago

Once again! This entire tempest in a teapot was a creation of right wing Republican operatives.

They hate Elizabeth because she is a threat to the insane fraudster activity on Wall Street that we end up paying for as tax payers. These bankster criminals want us to continue to pay for their losses. That is why they did away with Glass-Steagal. That is the very reason.

Wake up, people. Stop believing these Carl Rove lies. Haven't they damaged the nation enough?

Paul canning
Paul canning5 years ago

@Don H.

'This entire thing is nothing more than a Carl Rove ploy to hurt Elizabeth Warren's chance to be elected.'

It may have started as a way to 'get' Warren but Warren has failed to deal with it well precisely because she has failed to talk with Native Americans and to properly explain what Native ancestry means - her conversation on this has been stunningly inept. She has shut out Native voices, as has the media.

It is just as damning for her supporters as it is for Brown ones. Natives have been silenced throughout this whole episode and liberals should take a lesson here.

Paul canning
Paul canning5 years ago

@Paul B

I don't think she 'lied' - see my previous post for comment on the % of Oklahomans who have Native ancestry. Blood quantum exists. The issue is she hasn't talked with Native people - I am sourcing Native news and she isn't talking to them - and ancestry itself is a complicated and controversial issue.

The thing is this is seen in B&W/partisan terms. You see this as a way to attack her. Dems just defend her whatever happens. Who gets left out on this? Native Americans. I have yet to see the MSM make any effort - including the sainted Maddow - to source Native American opinion.

So this isn't a pox on either Brown or Warren - it's a pox on America.

Frances C.
Frances C5 years ago

Actually the leader of the Cherokee nation has supported Ms Warren's heritage. Only people who have their brains stuck in Fox liar channel, and Limbaugh/Beck would not have learned this. What else is new.

Don H.
Don H5 years ago


This entire thing is nothing more than a Carl Rove ploy to hurt Elizabeth Warren's chance to be elected.

Elizabeth wants to enforce regulations on the Wall Street criminals. Keeping her out of office is the objective of the out of control Wall Street fraudsters.

Send Elizabeth a campaign contribution. She is up against a massive influx of dirty right wing money.

Ira L.
Ellie L5 years ago

Yes, hope Elizabeth Warren will "SCALP Brown in the next election." She is head and shoulders above him in every way. VOTE WARREN FOR SENATOR OF MASSACHUSETTS.

Paul canning
Paul canning5 years ago


I saw the Maddow piece too. I found it disturbing that it did not reflect any of the Native American concerns. In fact I haven't seen any coverage which has. Ancestry issues are not simple, from my reading, so Maddow and others should report that.

In this partisan fight it is very, very telling that no one is consulting Native Americans. Warren has not played this well and Brown is just using them for his own ends.