Goaded by a mocking Donald J. Trump, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., revealed last October that she’d taken a DNA test and it showed she’s possibly 1/1024th indigenous, with roots possibly stemming from as far as South America.
But what was supposed to be big unveiling, cutting off a potential line of attack were she to face Trump in 2020, all but crashed and burned so remarkably that some close advisors went on record to say she had dimmed her chances at locking the Democratic nomination. And it’s necessitated an apology tour, including this week, when she apologized on camera to the Cherokee Nation for claiming to be Native American for more than 30 years.
But, yet again, she has missed the point.
Not only will Trump’s mockery and churlish cheap shots — like calling her “Pocahontas — get even nastier, the Massachusetts senator has not been and will not be the real target of those slurs.
Native Americans will be and always have been Trump’s real target, because Elizabeth Warren is not one of us. And those slurs and that mockery will be seen as increasingly acceptable by Americans because they are pouring from the maw of the president, and that will last for as long as she vies for the Democratic ticket, and perhaps even longer.
And the rotten ridicule of indigenous peoples, our cultures and our imagery will be the inevitable result of her campaign and she knows this. Should Warren somehow become the Democratic nominee in 2020, every Trump rally will resemble a Washington, D.C. NFL team tailgate party on Thanksgiving — brutal affairs brimming with faux-headdresses and mocking war-whoops.
A simple Google search today demonstrates how blistering Trump’s rally-goers are with their anti-Native imagery. Just look up “Warren Native American” and you’ll immediately be inundated with Photoshopped photos of Warren with a feather headdress atop her head and ruthless memes calling her “Chief Sitting Bulls***” and “Princess Liar-watha.”
Warren, of course, set this in motion, and there’s no turning back. (At some point, though, she will probably hire a Native American advisor or two, or maybe form a Native advisory council of sorts, if only for the optics.)
For decades, Warren has claimed to be of Native ancestry — she said then that her great, great, great grandmother was Cherokee and that “high cheekbones” run in her family — and the political difficulties of that claim has haunted Warren since it was first discovered during her Senate campaign that she listed herself as Native American in staff directories whilst a law professor. And, on Sunday, The Washington Post learned the Massachusetts senator wrote down on a State of Texas bar registration card in 1986 that she is “American Indian.”
Here’s the thing, though: Warren said during a recent rally that she “is not a person of color.” But it’s unclear why, if she knew that she was not a person of color, she would have listed herself as one, or whether we are then to believe that she only recently discovered she is, in fact, not a person of color.
The bigger question, though, is if Warren didn’t have her sights set on the presidency, whether she would be addressing the issue of her ancestry – including her professional use of it while not engaging with Native peoples — at all. After all, she refused to do so during her first Senate run.
So, if she was satisfied with her Senate seat, would she have taken a DNA test, apologized to the Cherokee Nation or ever have sat down with the National Congress of American Indians in a less-than-veiled attempt to win their support?
We know the answer to those questions.
But, as she said to the Washington Post, “I can’t go back” — and neither can the rest of us. No matter what else happens, no matter who is chosen to lock horns with Trump in 2020, the president will continue to weaponize the name “Pocahontas” and hurl it at Warren like a bully throws a snowball filled with rocks, just for twisted kicks.
And when he does so, it won’t really be at Warren’s expense but at ours, the Natives. When the president uses the name as an unscrupulous dig at Warren, he will continue to demean the real Pocahontas’ memory, and he will do so for years to come ,because Trump lacks as many morals as he does fresh material.
But because Warren is now officially gunning for his job, the Indian taunts are about to get seriously more foul and far more frequent. It been a little more than month since Warren’s announcement entering the race, and the cruel, callous cracks from the president are no longer just trickling in, but are now at a steady stream.
For her, it’s a potential political liability. For us, it’s a continuation of hundreds of years of slurs, insults and dehumanization, and it appears we’ll see a deluge of it as long as Warren’s on the campaign trail.