Is Elizabeth Warren Native American?

Is Elizabeth Warren Native American?

Posted By Paul G February 18th, 2019 Last Updated on: February 20th, 2019

In the light of recent claims about Elizabeth Warren’s Native American heritage, there appeared many controversial questions, arguments, and criticism. The Cherokee Nation was upset by her statement, President Trump expressed disbelief in this fact and many more accusations sounded concerning this matter. A newly announced candidate for President had to take actions and clarify the situation for everybody.

The question of whether Elizabeth Warren is Native American has an answer now.

The story of Elizabeth Warren (born Elizabeth Ann Herring) began on June 22nd, 1949 in Oklahoma City. She was born in a middle-class family after three older brothers and described her family as teetering “on the ragged edge of the middle class”.

Related – How much percentage Native American do you have to be to enroll in a tribe?

Early Life

When Elizabeth was 11, her father Donald Jones Herring, had a heart attack which put the family in a tough financial situation with multiple medical bills to pay and the pay cut since the head of the family could no longer carry out the work he used to do. To improve the situation, her mother, Pauline Herring (née Reed), took a job at Sears while Elizabeth got a waitressing job at her aunt’s restaurant.

Later, she had won various awards and a scholarship to GWU and eventually became a teacher at her alma mater where she had met her first husband. Balancing between family life and education, she earned a Bachelor of Science degree in speech pathology and audiology, and in a few years, already expecting a second child, she got her J.D. and passed the bar examination.

Elizabeth Warren’s Career

The main focus of her career was bankruptcy law. She had taught at several schools including UHLC, UT Law, Penn Law, and Harvard Law School. Her public policy work began with the activity opposing what later became BAPCPA of 2005.

Moving her practice through the Congressional Oversight Panel, Troubled Asset Relief Program to the Special Advisor position of The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, in 2012 she defeated incumbent of Massachusetts, Scott Brown. In 2017, she became Vice Chair of the Senate Democratic Caucus.

In February this year, at a rally in Lawrence, Elizabeth Warren officially announced her presidential campaign for the 2020 elections.

Trump Calls Her Pocahontas

As a child, she was told about her Native American ancestry and she considered being Native American a part of her story. For this, she was later immensely criticized for listing herself as a minority in a directory for Harvard Law School. It led to a range of accusations of falsification of her heritage for the sake of her career which she denied and several of her colleagues had also confirmed that her ethnic status played no role.

In light of the statement and the upcoming presidential run, President Donald Trump called Ms. Warren “Pocahontas” mocking her for claiming to have Native American ancestry. With his disbelief of this fact, he also challenged her to take a DNA test to prove whether she really is part Native American, commenting that he had a feeling she’d say no. Together with that, the President claimed he would give a million dollars to her favorite charity if she manages to prove with a DNA test that she indeed has Native American blood. As it turned out, President Trump was wrong.


DNA Test Results

In late 2018, Senator Warren took a DNA test that has revealed that her heritage consisted of primarily European descent but at the same time contained Native American ancestry from an ancestor in her pedigree ranging six to ten generations ago (with no evidence of African ancestry).

However, President Trump along with many others misinterpreted the result of her DNA test and claimed that Senator Warren “doesn’t have any Indian blood”.

The scientists though say it’s false to say that she doesn’t have any “Indian blood” even though they don’t refer to “blood” as ancestry. However, the evidence suggests that Warren very likely has a Native American ancestor and her DNA sample has been analyzed by a respected geneticist of Stanford University.

At the same time, with the data collected to date, there’s no way to tell if the Senator is more or less Native American than any other average American since the ancestry vastly differs across various geographical regions of the country.

However, Warren never stated to be “more” Native American than President Trump or any other person but only stated that she has a Native American ancestor, which is proved by the results of the DNA test.

Reaction for Native Americans

The DNA test angered many Native Americans including the Cherokee nation who called it “inappropriate and wrong”. The reason for this is that Senator Warren previously claimed to have the heritage of Cherokee and Delaware.

The issue in this situation is that no DNA test can prove the heritage of a particular tribe but only the presence of an ancestor. The tribes have specific citizenship requirements and the DNA test cannot distinguish among numerous Native American groups.

“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,” Cherokee Nation Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr. said in a statement. “Senator Warren is undermining tribal interests with her continued claims of tribal heritage.” Washington Post

In her defense, Elizabeth Warren stated that she has never claimed to be a Cherokee citizen or being eligible for Cherokee Nation membership. In her claims of having Native American ancestry, she was simply referring to the family stories of Native American lineage. Essentially, the reason why the Native American community was so upset with her revealing the results of the DNA test (before contacting the Cherokee Nation) is that while many people take “Native American” as a racial category, they have different beliefs on how to identify a Native American and whether they belong to the community. Native American membership is a precious thing for them, so the claims to Native American heritage are based on a DNA test are false for them.


Eventually, Warren apologized to the Cherokee Nation leadership and stated that she wasn’t a person of color nor was she a tribal citizen. She added

“My apology is an apology for not having been more sensitive about tribal citizenship and tribal sovereignty. I really want to underline the point, tribes and only tribes determine tribal citizenship”.

The executive director of communications of the Cherokee Nation, Julie Hubbard, stated that Warren understood that the Cherokee Nation tribal citizenship isn’t based on a DNA test but on the centuries of culture and laws.

Bid For President

On February 8th, 2019, Warren officially announced that she will be running for President in the elections of 2020. She is calling for major changes in the government and her first campaign took place in Lawrence, a former industrial mill town. She appealed to the working class families, union members, new immigrants, women and tried to demonstrate the constituency of this group.

At the rally in Lawrence, she stated “This is the fight of our lives. The fight to build an America where dreams are possible, an America that works for everyone,” Warren said. “And that is why I stand here today: to declare that I am a candidate for President of the United States of America”.

With the evidence provided, criticism arose and apologies made, Elizabeth Warren eventually proved the presence of the Native American ancestor in her pedigree. It’s unknown which particular tribe she is descended from; however, she is the DNA test does not give her enrollment status in any tribe.


Featured image courtesy of Elizabeth Warren Facebook.

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21 thoughts on “Is Elizabeth Warren Native American?

  1. What is native DNA? Russian/Siberian Altaian dna or some mutation only 23 and me claim is present in many natives they have tested that is not widely used or recognized by other testing companies. How many natives have been tested for this new mutation? I read the actual method they used to determine her dna status and it was not based on matches to tribal members or based on even a major amount of dna types like Altaian and Asian and Inuit dna markers but on a single new mutation that has been deemed to be native. Next week they may discover this is wrong. Many people are brought up believing they are native who are not as we all know. That is why a person has to be more responsible and honest in the claims they make. If you dont know for sure you dont know. Face it, Warren was irresponsible and in the end used this status to get ahead. Its shameful. And the relative was so far back she could not have even known or heard of them. And it was maternal lines only (mother, grandma, ggrandma etc) as she is a woman wasnt it ?but it was supposed to come from her grandfather?

  2. Astrelfrog says:

    With no disrespect for any person of any ethnic heritage, at some time, blood quantum will become a vanishing criterium. Any ethnicity is as much a matter of belief system, practice, and cultural heritage as it is DNA. Under those criteria, Ms. Warren is European-American. I think it would be best to concentrate on preserving tribal languages, customs, religion, ethics and such, rather than worry only about genes , and use knowledge and attitude towards those aspects as well.

  3. This article leaves out a couple of important details. The first is that the percentage the test displayed means that she has an insignificant fraction of Native American DNA. The second is that we do not know which test she used and some are problematic. For example, there is a test that mixes up Native American DNA and Ashkenazi.

  4. Kathy Bentley says:

    Ha! Ha! Mr. Labatte,
    Your post hit the bulls eye. The last line however, made me cringe, and grin. Of course, a politician wouldn’t do such a thing! Sorry, but I am jaundiced about our United States Government and politicians in general.

  5. Judy Edwards-Burrus says:

    I feel some empathy for Elizabeth Warren. She was brought up believing she had some Native American ancestry; and, I too was brought up that way and told the same thing. My aunt, my mother’s sister, even wrote in a letter that I did (which I still have. She is now deceased and so are all my other older relatives and I can no longer question any of them about it). A few years ago my husband and self had DNA tests, not to prove any particular blood ancestry, but just because we were curious and received an advertisement offering a discount to have it done. We did this when we were in our sixties, and our families now consist of siblings and a few cousins. Both of my parents are deceased, and I have no brothers; and so, my test could only show results from my mother’s side. Not even a tiny partial percentage of anything, except European ancestry. So, sometimes, for whatever reason, we are told falsehoods about where we came from. Since my mother’s side of the family came to Tennessee and before that from North Carolina, perhaps it was just an assumption? Or guilt from knowing some of the history of The Peoples who came from that region before the colonists came and how they were forcefully removed? I wish I knew…. Anyway, the bottom line is that when our parents, or our older relatives tell us something like this, we tend to believe them. Especially if we love and respect them. Elizabeth Warren repeated what she was told, and I can understand her believing it was true. If she only did it to further her career, if was unfortunate, because she is paying for it now with all the bad publicity.

  6. Peggy L Cox says:

    The Dawes Rolls should not be the only way to prove Native American ancestry.
    There are too many Native Americans whose families did not get on the Dawes Rolls. I’ve seen it with my own, 62 year old eyes. I’m a tribal registered Choctaw NATIVE. Yakoke

  7. I would hope such an individual would not cite unproven heritage for advantage. This could be the basis for undeserved scholarships, selection for enrollment to meet a quota (thereby excluding a deserving applicant) or for advantage in employment. Fortunately, no politician would ever engage in such behavior.

  8. Darla Hitchcock says:

    I’m an enrolled member of one of the Tribes that Warren grew up thinking she belonged to–The Oklahoma Tribe of Delaware Indians–and I would be happy to count her as part of my tribe. As it stands, DNA are notoriously bad at picking out Native American ancestry as there is simply not enough data out there. This is why many Natives refuse to get a DNA test. Warren did get such a test, and was shown to have some Native ancestry. Leave her be. This hoopla is just the rights version of “But her emails” tailored to fit Warren, who has done great work for the citizens of this country.

  9. I have often been mistaken for Native, but there were no real stories in my family history of any Native blood. My brother did an Ancestry DNA test. His came out English, Irish, Scottish, and Dutch. Exactly what family history said. There was 5% “unknown”, though as well.
    I once had a guy ask me “What tribe are you from?” I said that I wasn’t Native. He sarcastically replied, “Oh, you pass for white!”
    Now, I just reply that I don’t know if I am. Maybe it’s the Mystery 5%???
    It has made my life a bit strange, at times.

  10. Angela Mason says:

    I am surprised that the word “pride” hasn’t entered into the conversation. My children have Native American (Cherokee) in their DNA, albeit small percentage, from their father’s side and are VERY proud of it, as anyone should be with any amount of Native DNA!!!

  11. Stephen F Duncan says:

    DNA testing can be a lot of fun and can help you discover many things, but you only get part of the DNA of your mother and father, and they only got part of their parents’ DNA. It is quite possible to be a direct descendent of a tribal elder and have no DNA to show for it. Culture and tradition from each nation determines who is a member – always remember that.

  12. Karen Phillips says:

    Why would anyone defend this cheater’s claim she is Native American when she is not anywhere near even 1%. She used the Native American designation to get into Law School and increase her opportunities professionally. Ridiculous that an yen would support this liar.

  13. Caligirl1960 says:

    It does not bother me that she claimed Native American ancestry but that she used it get into get her job as a professor that position should have gone to a Native American those grants are meant to help minorities a better chance but instead it was taken by a person who was mostly European.

    • Flathead Lake says:

      Hi Caligirl,
      As far as I know, she never received any grants or scholarships based on her claiming Native ancestry. The only thing she ever gained from it was inclusion in a Indigenous themed cookbook. In her politics she has been generally pro-Native. On another note, people think there are all kinds of free stuff and college scholarships for Natives, I worked with high school kids as a college and scholarship counselor for many years and most Native kids go through the same struggles as their peers when applying for financial aid, scholarships and grants (unless they belong to a wealthy tribe). The myth that Natives get special treatment is harmful to our kids who work hard to get where they are going and have had to compete on a playing field that is not always “level”.
      I personally believe we should welcome Ms. Warren as a friend to Native people.

  14. Caligirl1960 says:

    It does bother me that she claimed Native American ancestry but that she used it get into get her job as a professor that position should have gone to a Native American those grants are meant to help minorities a better chance but instead it was taken by a person who was mostly European.

  15. Dianne Davidson says:

    I read the article and I just really don’t see what all of the hoopla is about the average American has so many different ethnic estimates in their DNA and all of a sudden there appears to be this craze on everyone wanting to be Native American I know some Native Americans or who say that they are and won’t take the DNA because if they do their claim would be null and void some live on reservations and receive monies and benefits and I don’t have a problem with that not if they are truly Native Americans what you could look at some of these people and they are clearly caucasians flat saying that they don’t have a drop of native blood and then maybe I am saying that anyway it’s just seems that all of a sudden is just too much to do about nothing just be proud of the skin that you’re in I believe a lot of people are just interested now because the natives have casinos and they want to capitalize

    • Wow, you really don’t sound educated in about the Indigenous at all. I hope you do some research about how the government still continues to kill off Indigenous people and take their land. Living on a reservation is Not a luxury, and the mentioning of casinos is false and ignorant.

  16. I am 60 years old, my Dad’s family is from Oklahoma. For as long as I can remember I was told that we had a Native American ancestor in the family tree. This was a verbal history from my Grandma. When I was in 5th grade, a paper pusher of some type came into our classrooms and asked if anyone there was of Native American descent. My friend popped her hand in the air and pointed at me “she is 1/16 Cherokee”. I was pulled aside and asked about family history. Nothing ever came of it, there was no documentation. All these years later, my Uncle(Dad’s Brother) had a DNA test done, I asked about his results. Finally an answer, our lovely dark hair and pretty skin tone comes from Italian bloodline. I was a little sad. After all these years, I had felt a kinship with Native People of this land . I will always be an out spoken guardian of our lands & resources and in that I feel a comradery with the Native American People.

    • My story’s pretty much the same. Family legend has it we had a modicum of Choctaw in the line on my maternal grandfather’s mother’s side. About six years ago, my mother – who’s long had an interest in family history & has traced the roots back to Scotland – got one of those DNA tests &, for whatever reason, I was the only person in the family who qualified that was willing to do it. End result: not one bit Native anywhere, much less Choctaw.

      For what it’s worth, I don’t buy the average white person’s “outrage” over this because I’m not convinced they really care about what Natives have faced in American history & their current situation. I’m positive no one that calls her “Pocahontas” cares one whit.

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