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Elizabeth Warren apologized to Cherokee Nation over DNA test, tribe says

Posted: 2:16 PM, Feb 01, 2019
Updated: 2019-02-01 15:16:49-05

Sen. Elizabeth Warren has apologized to Cherokee Nation leaders over her attempt to use a DNA test to confirm her past claims to Native American ancestry, the tribe said.

The presidential hopeful "reached out to us and has apologized to the tribe," Cherokee Nation executive director of communications Julie Hubbard said in a statement.

"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," Hubbard added. "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."

A Warren spokesman declined to comment on any outreach to Cherokee Nation.

Warren's decision last year to roll out a video touting her family's Native ancestry and post online an analysis of her genetic data performed by Carlos Bustamante, a Stanford professor, that "identified 5 genetic segments as Native American in origin at high confidence," was met with a swift political backlash.

Cherokee Nation Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr. was among Warren's harshest critics.

"Using a DNA test to lay claim to any connection to the Cherokee Nation or any tribal nation, even vaguely, is inappropriate and wrong," he said in a statement at the time. "It makes a mockery out of DNA tests and its legitimate uses while also dishonoring legitimate tribal governments and their citizens, whose ancestors are well documented and whose heritage is proven."

By the time Warren hit the campaign trail earlier this month after forming a presidential exploratory committee, the fury seemed to be dying down. Voters upset over the test at her early events, in states like Iowa and New Hampshire, typically framed their concerns in a stark political context, worrying that Warren had given in to President Donald Trump, who has frequently mocked her past claims.

Asked about the DNA test during a question and answer session at a rally in Sioux City, Iowa, on January 5, Warren explained her reasoning and declared, "I am not a person of color. I am not a citizen of a tribe. Tribal citizenship is very different from ancestry. Tribes -- and only tribes -- determine tribal citizenship, and I respect that difference."

Her point echoed what tribal advocates and leaders had said -- and were continuing to say as their frustration grew -- for months.

Rebecca Nagle, a writer, activist and citizen of Cherokee Nation, told CNN in an interview last week that, even though she mostly agreed with Warren's politics, she would never consider supporting her without a robust admission.

"What Warren needs to do, at this point, is apologize to the tribes that she has harmed and to Native people broadly -- and then she needs to say without qualification, unequivocally that she is not Cherokee and that she is not Native. And stop parsing Native identity in ways that undermine Native rights," Nagle said

Warren's explanation, her stories of a familial history and the DNA test, she added, only made things worse.

"All of those things aren't how indigenous people measure and determine Native identity," Nagle said. "It's how white people try to measure our identity -- by blood quantum or by percentages."

Nagle told CNN on Friday that she was pleased that Warren first approached the tribe privately, but still believed a more public statement was necessary.

The Intercept first reported on the outreach and apology.

Warren first faced political scrutiny over her purported Native American heritage during her 2012 Senate race. Trump put the controversy back in the headlines during the 2016 presidential election, when he met Warren's criticisms by calling her "Pocahontas."

At the event in Iowa, Warren told a sympathetic audience, "My decision was to put it all out there" in the face of the political attacks.

"I can't stop Donald Trump from what he's going to do," she said. "I can't stop him from hurling racial insults. I don't have any power to do that," she added as an audience member yelled out, "Yes, you can!"