NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

Opinion

May 9, 2012

Elizabeth Warren and the Cherokee dilemma

The question for Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren is not whether she truly is part Native American. A genealogist has confirmed that the Massachusetts Democrat is 1/32nd Cherokee, although no document yet has been produced proving the connection.

That would not be an uncommon finding for many who were, as Warren was, born and raised in Oklahoma. The state was once known as the Indian Territory and was where the Cherokee people were relocated after being driven from their homeland in the Southeast.

The questions the U.S. Senate hopeful needs to address are whether she ever benefitted in her career from her self-identification as a minority and whether she believes that others less fortunate than she may have been denied an opportunity because of it.

Were Warren's Native American ancestry more prevalent — say a parent or grandparent — certainly a case could be made that she could arguably claim a direct connection and living knowledge of Native American minority status. But by all accounts, Warren's Native American ancestry is five generations removed — a great-great-great grandmother — and she grew up in a white, working-class family in Oklahoma City.

It seems clear that Warren's "box-checking" on law reference application forms was designed to help further her career. Similarly, Harvard Law School benefitted by citing Warren as a minority faculty member at a time its diversity practices were under fire.

Warren's claim that she checked the box claiming Native American heritage in her application for inclusion in the Association of American Law Schools desk book so that she could meet people with similar backgrounds is laughable. So too are her assertions that her Native American claims are justified because of "family lore" and relatives with "high cheekbones."

While "box checking" is not illegal, there are some who believe it should be.

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