Monday, June 20, 2016
Elizabeth Warren Flap: Indian Identity
Spoiler alert! I was born in Oklahoma to parents who worked for the government as teachers and caseworkers in the Ft. Sill Indian School in the 1930s. Indian children from all over the U.S. were separated from their parents and sent to Ft. Sill to learn how to be “American”. But my father was subversive, in that he wrote down their various languages and tribal stories so they would never forget them. As a toddler my closest playmates and teachers were Comanches. Descendants of Quanah Parker were my neighbors in Medicine Park. Until my 5th birthday I had two horses that I took care of and rode -- bareback. For all intents and purposes my heart was Indian. But I am of European stock. So I sympathize with Sen. Warren.
Many years ago Sen. Elizabeth Warren made references to her American Indian heritage. That has recently come back to haunt her. The public wants to know if (1) she can prove her identity as part Cherokee, and (2) if she used that identity to help her academically and professionally. The Atlantic ran an article (May 20, 2012) that has contributed to all the fuss, but makes it clear that the answer to the first question above is “No” and the answer to the second is also “No”. Photo-shopped pictures of her in cigar-store Indian headdress and war paint have flooded the media. Donald Trump ridiculed her as “Pocahontas” in one of his childish rants. In June 2016 the Republican Party of Massachusetts ran an anti-Warren TV ad in response to Donald Trump. A few Cherokee Nation people expressed outrage in the ad, saying that Warren was not a Cherokee and that she had lied and insulted Indians by claiming to be part Cherokee. Like many white Oklahomans who claim to be part Indian, she admitted that she had no proof, but had heard this from her parents all her life. Below are the facts, with quotes from the Atlantic.
Elizabeth Warren was born June 22, 1949, in Oklahoma City, OK, and graduated from the University of Houston in 1970. She took her Law Degree in 1976 from Rutgers University (where she declined the school’s offer to take advantage of affirmative action policies.) Her distinguished teaching career began at the Universities of Texas and Pennsylvania, where she taught law. (Both schools listed her on their websites as a minority professor, probably to make the universities look good for accreditation purposes.
In 1995 Senator Warren joined the Law Faculty at Harvard. From the Atlantic: “Harvard Law professor Charles Fried, a former U.S. Solicitor General who served under Ronald Reagan, sat on the appointing committee that recommended Warren for hire … said [Warren’s] Native American heritage … [never came] up during the hiring process. It simply played no role in [her appointment].” In 2008 Elizabeth Warren was named Chair of Congressional Oversight Panel, and in 2010 she served as Special Advisor to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. She was elected Democratic U. S. Senator from Massachusetts in 2013
To quote from the writer of the Atlantic article: “The Democratic Senate candidate [now Senator from Massachusetts] can’t back up family lore that she is part Indian – but neither is there any evidence that she benefited professionally from these stories. … Based on the public evidence so far, she doesn’t appear to have used her claim of Native American ancestry to gain access to anything much more significant than a cookbook; in 1984 she contributed five recipes to the Pow Wow Chow cookbook published by the Five Civilized Tribes Museum in Muskogee, OK. [She was listed as,] ‘Elizabeth Warren – Cherokee’.”
I’m not sure where the photos of Sen. Warren in cigar-store Indian headdress and war paint came from, or who might have made them, but the slightest scrutiny of them shows they are photo-shopped. They first appeared on billboards set up by the owner of a motorcycle shop in Hanson, MA, who supports Republican Senator Scott Brown. That same shop owner also is known for putting up revoltingly crude billboards attacking Pres. Obama. For me, this sort of twisting of free speech is unconscionable. Unfortunately, some people will believe anything.