Jonathan Martinfeb, New York Times, February 14, 2018
Senator Elizabeth Warren addressed questions about her racial heritage and vowed in a speech on Wednesday to a group of tribes to do more for Native Americans, using an unannounced appearance to confront a political liability before a potential bid for president.
In remarks to the National Congress of American Indians, Ms. Warren quickly, and bluntly, invoked President Trump’s derisive nickname for her, recalling that he had called her “Pocahontas” last year at a ceremony honoring Navajo code talkers from World War II.
Ms. Warren, speaking from prepared remarks, did not offer new evidence of what she has said is her Cherokee and Delaware heritage, conceding, “You won’t find my family members on any rolls, and I’m not enrolled in a tribe.”
“And I want to make something clear: I respect that distinction,” she said to applause. “I understand that tribal membership is determined by tribes — and only by tribes.”
Ms. Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts and a former professor at Harvard Law School, listed herself as a member of a minority group in a law school directory but has not claimed to be a Native American since being elected to the Senate in 2012.
Beyond Mr. Trump’s ridicule, some American Indian activists have pressured Ms. Warren to be more straightforward about her heritage and to also be a more aggressive advocate for the tribes, some of which account for the most impoverished communities in the country.
Such demands, combined with the attention that Mr. Trump commands with his mockery, prompted her to try to engage in what one supporter of hers allowed was something of a deck-clearing going into her expected re-election in November and before a Democratic primary race that will effectively start at the end of the year.
To that end, Ms. Warren, an Oklahoma native, used a recounting of her roots to not just tell her family’s ethnic story but to present a tale of Dust Bowl hardship that has the makings of a stump speech aimed at inoculating her against charges of being a member of the coastal elite.
“My mother’s family was part Native American,” she said on what would have been her mom’s 106th birthday. “And my daddy’s parents were bitterly opposed to their relationship. So, in 1932, when Mother was 19 and Daddy had just turned 20, they eloped.”
She vowed to draw attention to health care and environmental inequities on reservations as well as startling statistics, noting that “more than half — half — of native women have experienced sexual violence.”
“It is deeply offensive that this president keeps a portrait of Andrew Jackson hanging in the Oval Office, honoring a man who did his best to wipe out native people,” she said.