Elizabeth Warren says she’s Native American. So she is.

Elizabeth Warren says she’s Native American. So she is.

The Washington Post

David Treuer

Suddenly many Americans wonder what it means that Elizabeth Warren, who is vying for Massachusetts Republican Scott Brown’s U.S. Senate seat, has identified herself as having Cherokee and Delaware Indian heritage. The claim wasn’t sudden, but the furor is.

Some 20 years ago, she listed herself as a minority in a directory of law professors. Recently the authenticity of her heritage, and her reasons for claiming it, have been called into question on the campaign trail. However, the debate should not be about whether she deserves this minority status, but whether we live in a meritocracy…

…An Indian identity is something someone claims for oneself; it is a matter of choice. It is not legally defined and entails no legal benefits. Being an enrolled member of a federally recognized tribe, however, is a legal status that has nothing to do with identity and everything to do with blood quantum. Members must meet requirements set by the tribe in consultation with the Bureau of Indian Affairs. (Elizabeth Warren is not enrolled in a tribe and doesn’t seem to have sought such status. She doesn’t claim an Indian identity, just Indian ancestry.) Indians who are not enrolled in a tribe aren’t eligible for the aforementioned programs and benefits, including casino profits, education assistance, hunting privileges and housing…

…My father is Jewish, but I didn’t really grow up around any of my Jewish relatives, so claiming a Jewish identity — despite that heritage — would feel strange, presumptuous, disrespectful. On my mother’s side we have an ancestor by the name of Bonga, who was African and ended up at Leech Lake in Minnesota, where he married a woman of the Ojibwe tribe, and where I grew up. Despite this heritage, it would likewise feel very odd to claim that I am African or African American. (I am something like one-156th African.)…

Read the entire opinion here.

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