Cherokee Nation says Elizabeth Warren apologizes for DNA test flap

Native American activists had criticized the senator for reducing their identity to a DNA test in response to the president's political attacks.
Image: Elizabeth Warren
Elizabeth Warren was never an enrolled member of a tribe, but has said the ancestry was nonetheless part of her family story.Daniel Acker / Bloomberg via Getty Images

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By Alex Seitz-Wald

WASHINGTON — Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren has apologized to the Cherokee Nation for her decision to release the results of a DNA test showing she has distant Native American ancestry, the tribe said Friday.

“Senator Warren has reached out to us and has apologized to the tribe," Julie Hubbard, the executive director of Cherokee Nation Communications, said in a statement to NBC News. "We are encouraged by this dialogue and understanding that being a Cherokee Nation tribal citizen is rooted in centuries of culture and laws not through DNA tests. We are encouraged by her action and hope that the slurs and mockery of tribal citizens and Indian history and heritage will now come to an end."

Warren, whose campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the Cherokee statement, was widely panned for deciding in October to respond to President Donald Trump's taunting by releasing the results of the DNA test, which found "strong evidence" that she has Native American ancestry dating back six to 10 generations.

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The Massachusetts senator was born in Oklahoma, where she was raised hearing stories about how her parents had eloped after her father's family objected to him marrying her mother because she was part Cherokee.

Warren was never an enrolled member of a tribe, but has said the ancestry was nonetheless part of her family story. And much later, when she ran for the Senate, Republicans alleged she had improperly claimed Native ancestry to get a leg up in the hiring process at the elite law schools where she had worked.

Trump seized on the controversy by dubbing Warren "Pocahantas," so she and her advisers knew they would have to respond if she ran for president in 2020.

Warren tried to get ahead of Trump by taking the DNA test, which showed she wasn't lying about her roots, but nonetheless the move backfired. The Cherokee Nation and other Native American activists criticized her for reducing their identity to a DNA test, while fellow Democrats saw an unforced tactical error.

One of the first questions Warren faced from a voter after declaring that she was exploring a presidential run this year was, "Why did you undergo the DNA testing and give Donald more fodder to be a bully?"

Warren, clearly anticipating the question, said she was glad to field it.

“I am not a person of color. I am not a citizen of a tribe,” she said in Sioux City last month. “I grew up in Oklahoma, and like a lot of folks in Oklahoma, we heard stories about our ancestry. When I first ran for public office, Republicans homed in on this part of my history, and thought they could make a lot of hay out of it. A lot of racial slurs, and a lot of ugly stuff. And so my decision was — I’m just going to put it all out there."