Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren has her eyes on the White House. With the election two years away, she is crafting her image as a progressive Democrat. However, one troubling issue is her family tree. Between 1986 and 1995 Warren was listed as a member of a racial minority in the Association of American Law Schools Directory. Harvard Law School also identified Warren as a "woman of color". This was based on a family tradition that she had Cherokee ancestors.
Her political opponents are sceptical and media investigations have thrown doubt on the claim. President Trump ridicules mercilessly her as “Pocohontas” and even promised to give US$1 million to a charity if she took a test to prove that she has Native American heritage.
Finally Warren took up the challenge. A leading geneticist, Carlos Bustamante, of Stanford University, analysed her DNA. The result – as announced in a promotional video (see below) – is that she is between 1/64 and 1/1024 Native American – ie, 6 to 10 generations ago.
Will the genetic analysis do her any good? Predictably President Trump has declined to honour his bet. “Pocahontas (the bad version), sometimes referred to as Elizabeth Warren, is getting slammed,” he tweeted. “She took a bogus DNA test and it showed that she may be 1/1024, far less than the average American. Now Cherokee Nation denies her, ‘DNA test is useless.’ Even they don’t want her. Phony!”
On her website Warren only claims that her ancestors were vaguely Native American, not Cherokee, and has not claimed tribal citizenship. Cherokee Nation Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr insists that she is not Cherokee.
"A DNA test is useless to determine tribal citizenship. Current DNA tests do not even distinguish whether a person’s ancestors were indigenous to North or South America. Sovereign tribal nations set their own legal requirements for citizenship, and while DNA tests can be used to determine lineage, such as paternity to an individual, it is not evidence for tribal affiliation.
Using a DNA test to lay claim to any connection to the Cherokee Nation or any tribal nation, even vaguely, is inappropriate and wrong. It makes a mockery out of DNA tests and its legitimate uses while also dishonoring legitimate tribal governments and their citizens, whose ancestors are well documented and whose heritage is proven. Senator Warren is undermining tribal interests with her continued claims of tribal heritage."
The fracas shows both sides of the public’s growing interest in ancestry testing. But while the genetic information may be accurate; as history it is often bunk.
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