Is Elizabeth Warren Native American? Here's the Mass. Senator's Heritage Explained


As Hillary Clinton further aligns her campaign with Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump continues to double down on his attacks on Warren's Native American ancestry.

The reality TV star and real estate billionaire routinely accuses Warren of lying about her heritage, sarcastically referring to the senator as "Pocahontas." "She's got about as much Indian blood as I have," Trump told New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd in March. "Her whole life was based on a fraud. She got into Harvard and all that because she said she was a minority."

However, Trump's comments on heritage don't even scrape the surface of the complexity of Native American ancestry. 

Reports indicate that Warren's great-great-great-grandmother Sarah Smith was of the Cherokee tribe. Smith's 1894 marriage license application described her as Cherokee, though the original copy could not be found, CNN reported. 

"Being Native American has been part of my story I guess since the day I was born," Warren said while running for Senate in 2012. "These are my family stories, I have lived in a family that has talked about Native Americans and talked about tribes since I was a little girl."

But Trump has claimed Warren lied about her Native American ancestry from the very beginning, when she indicated she was Native American in her faculty directory while a professor at Harvard Law School in order to get ahead in her career. It's the same sentiment her Republican opposition to the Massachusetts Senate, former Sen. Scott Brown, claimed in 2012, calling on Warren to release all relevant documents indicating whether she listed herself as Native American or Caucasian on confidential records. 

Warren did in fact list herself as Native American while teaching at Harvard. "I listed myself in the directory in the hopes that it might mean that I would be invited to a luncheon, a group, something that might happen with people who are like I am," Warren told reporters, the Boston Herald reported. However, she chose to stop checking off Native American as her ethnicity at one point, citing it wasn't an effective way of diversifying her network. 

John Sommers II/Getty Images

Perhaps the reason Trump will surely continue to sling Warren's heritage through the mud during the general election is because of the gray area Native American ancestry can create in mainstream media. Warren, a white woman born into a lower-middle class family in Oklahoma, doesn't appear to be the stereotypical tribe member of a historic Native American community. Instead, if she is in fact Native American, anything from intermarriages to varying multiracial backgrounds in Native tribes could've played critical roles in her ancestry.

"I think people still have this perception that all American Indians look like this image of Plains Indians from the 1800s," American Indian Studies professor and Pawnee tribe member Julia Good Fox told CNN. "We don't look like how we would have 200 years ago either, so to expect Indians to look the same (as they did then) makes no sense."

"There's this ignorance about Native American citizenship," Good Fox continued. "And what are we learning about American Indians grades K-12? It's all in past-tense, and we don't get a sense of what an Indian today looks like. That can really be confusing to people."

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Correction: June 27, 2016