Annie Linskey and Amy Gardner, Washington Post, February 5, 2019
Sen. Elizabeth Warren said Tuesday that she was sorry that she identified herself as a Native American for almost two decades, reflecting her ongoing struggle to quiet a controversy that continues to haunt her as she prepares to formally announce a presidential bid.
Her comments more fully explain the regret she expressed last week to the chief of the Cherokee Nation, the first time she’s said she was sorry for claiming American Indian heritage.
The private apology was earlier reported as focusing more narrowly on a DNA test she took to demonstrate her purported heritage, a move that prompted a ferocious backlash even from many allies. Warren will be vying to lead a party that has become far more mindful of nonwhite voters and their objections to misuse of their culture.
“I can’t go back,” Warren said in an interview with The Washington Post. “But I am sorry for furthering confusion on tribal sovereignty and tribal citizenship and harm that resulted.”
In addition to the DNA test, she released employment documents over the summer to show she didn’t use ethnicity to further her career. And in a speech a year ago she addressed her decision to call herself a Native American, though she didn’t offer the apology that some wanted at the time.
Using an open records request during a general inquiry, for example, The Post obtained Warren’s registration card for the State Bar of Texas, providing a previously undisclosed example of Warren identifying as an “American Indian.”
Warren filled out the card by hand in neat blue ink and signed it. Dated April 1986, it is the first document to surface showing Warren making the claim in her own handwriting. Her office didn’t dispute its authenticity.
The nascent 2020 Democratic field is already the most diverse in history, with two black senators, five women, a gay man and an Asian entrepreneur among the announced or potential candidates.
Nonwhite voters have a significant voice in the Democratic primaries. Blacks made up 25 percent of the electorate in the 2016 Democratic primary, according to exit polls. Hispanics made up 7 percent, but that rose to 19 percent in Nevada, a critical early primary state.
It was previously reported that Warren called Bill John Baker, the principal chief of the Cherokee Nation, and apologized for sharing the results of a DNA test which showed she had a distant relative who was Native American.
Warren, asked in a brief interview Tuesday if she’d intended the apology to include labeling herself as Native American when at the University of Pennsylvania and at Harvard University, replied “yes.” She gave the same response when asked if it included labeling herself as a minority in the Association of American Law Schools directory.
The Texas bar registration card is significant, among other reasons, because it removes any doubt that Warren directly claimed the identity. In other instances Warren has declined to say whether she or an assistant filled out forms.
The date coincided with her first listing as a “minority” by the Association of American Law Schools. Warren reported herself as minority in the directory every year starting in 1986 — when AALS first included a list of minority law professors — to 1995, when her name dropped off the list.