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Elizabeth Warren's DNA Test

Earlier this month Elizabeth Warren claimed victory after a DNA test revealed she likely had a Native American ancestor between six and ten generations back. This is the latest salvo in a long-running batle between Warren and Donald Trump. Warren's ancestry has been an issue since she first ran for Congress six years ago, when it was revealed that Harvard Law School, her previous employer, had held her up as an example of the ethnic diversity among its staff. Though Warren claims Cherokee and Deloware ancestry via family lore, she is not a registered citizen of of any federally recognized tribe. Trump has repeatedly mocked Warren, consistently referring to her as "Pocahontas" in campaign rallies and post-campaign rallies.

Does the DNA test put an end to Warren's ethnic troubles? To the contrary, it may have increased them.

After Warren went public with the results of her test, a spokesperson for Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma issued a harshly critical statement in reply. In part, the statement from Chuck Hoskin asserted, "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."

To be fair, Warren has never claimed tribal citizenship, only ancestry. However, her claims—coming at a time when tribal sovereignty is under attack on multiple fronts—seem tone-deaf at best.

The two weeks preceding Warren's announcement brought two court decisions against tribal sovereignty. On October 4, a Texas appeals court ruled that the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) was unconstitutional. ICWA was passed in 1978, when one out of three tribal children were being taken away from their families and placed in foster care and put up for adoption. ICWA sought to alleviate the crisis, requiring agencies to give preference to tribal citizens when the child is known to be a tribal member. Without this protection, children who are citizens of federally recognized tribes may be fostered and adopted by families who know nothing of the tribal heritage or of the process for obtaining tribal membership documentation. Children adopted outside the tribe may grow up without having any connection to their tribe.

And then, on October 9, the Supreme Court refused to consider a ruling by a circuit appeals court in North Dakota, letting stand the lower court's ruling that residents must show documentation of their street address in order to vote. But many of the state's reservations do not use street addresses. Residents receive their mail in post office boxes, which are not considered proof of residency for the purpose of voting. The result may be the disenfranchisement of more than 5000 American Indian voters.

On both of these controversial rulings, Elizabeth Warren had nothing to say. She likewise was silent during the 2016 Dakota Access Pipeline standoff. She has never spoken up on the issues of violence, poverty, abuse, and lack of opportunity endemic among reservations.

And that's why Cherokee Nation and other tribes are not embracing Warren after her DNA announcement. Being a tribal citizen is more than just blood. It's a shared history, a shared culture, a shared struggle, shared resilience. Warren has never been part of this community. She wants to trumpet her ancestry, but from the perspective of most tribal members, she is not even an ally.

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