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Elizabeth Warren: Box-Checking for Fun and Profit

A column by Steve Russell about Elizabeth Warren.

Forrest Carter, Carlos Castaneda, Ward Churchill, Iron Eyes Cody, Jamake HIghwater, Nasdijj, Princess Pale Moon, Andrea and Justine Smith, Mary Thunder, Dhyani Ywahoo.

Some of these people have done good work; others have profited only themselves. Some have traded in valuable insights; others in execrable garbage. They have one thing in common.

The question recently has been whether Elizabeth Warren belongs on that list. I am personally unclear about the standards of admission, so I will be thinking out loud. I contributed to Elizabeth Warren’s campaign before and after her opponent nominated her for inclusion, so feel free to consider these remarks biased for that reason.

Nobody likes to be taken in, but I have not been. I contributed because I believe Elizabeth Warren holds promise to be the most effective representative of the 99% to serve in Congress in my generation. But if she has traded on a fake Indian identity, I certainly would think less of her.

I’m puzzled by the way the question has been addressed, and Ms. Warren is not helping with her imbecilic remarks about “high cheekbones.” As in the cases of Ward Churchill and Andrea Smith, the most common way of looking at the question is genealogy, the quest for a Cherokee in the woodpile, as it were.

Pray tell, in what sense is somebody Indian if they have to hire a genealogist to prove it?

I was born and raised in the Creek Nation, and some of our customs are remarkably similar. We share the history of removal to Indian Territory and the abrogation of our treaties to create the State of Oklahoma. We produced the most effective organizers against the Dawes Act abomination in the Cherokee Redbird Smith and the Creek Chitto Harjo. But I never, ever, thought I was the same as a Creek. Different language, different stories, different traditions of governing—let’s face it, different peoples.

How can you maintain a tribal identity without knowing at least some of what that identity means?

A genealogist in Boston claimed to have discovered that Elizabeth Warren’s g-g-g-grandmother is listed on a marriage application as Cherokee. This would not tell us blood quantum because, even in those times, one was either a Cherokee citizen or not.

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Elizabeth Warren’s alleged Cherokee ancestor would have been a contemporary of John Ross, Cooweescowee, the Bird Clan Cherokee who led the tribal government though our most tragic confrontations with American greed. Ross was one-eighth Cherokee by blood, as I am. I draw the conclusion that if Warren’s ancestor were in fact Cherokee, we would still know nothing about her blood quantum.

A prominent Cherokee scholar, Dr. Richard Allen, points out that Warren’s ancestor was allegedly married to a white man in Tennessee at a time when such a marriage would have been prohibited by anti-miscegenation laws. Those laws only fell when struck down by the Supreme Court in 1967, a blow for equality every bit as significant as the legalization of gay marriage in our time. Like the prohibitions on gay marriage, anti-miscegenation laws were justified by a comical admixture of fake science and superstition, only comical to those not separated from persons they loved.

It’s only fair to admit the Cherokee Nation had such laws as well, but applying only to “Negroes.” However, white Cherokee citizens were limited to one wife. While that limitation sounds absurd, it was a rational attempt to avoid white intruders entering marriages of convenience with Cherokee women, which brings up another speculation about Ms. Warren’s story.

The marriage application supposedly naming the Cherokee ancestor was made in Oklahoma in 1894. Oklahoma statehood was in 1907, but 1894 would have been during the height of the white intruder problem in the Cherokee Nation. The question becomes whether the application was filed in Oklahoma Territory or Indian Territory and, if the latter, which nation? At this writing, it appears that the application came from Logan County, Oklahoma Territory, nowhere near the Cherokee Nation.

However this resolves, Dr. Allen has been unable to find Warren’s ancestor on any Cherokee Rolls, so it would appear that the ancestor was not a citizen.

If Elizabeth Warren listed herself in the Harvard faculty directory as Indian hoping to meet others of like descent, there’s no harm and no foul. Can you imagine how hard it must be to promote a stickball game on the Harvard Quad?

If she was making herself available to mentor Indian students, that would be commendable. I expect the Indian students would have said so by now.

There’s no question Harvard has used Elizabeth Warren to hoist the flag of diversity. Harvard is flying a false flag and it’s reprehensible.

The question, to me, is whether Elizabeth Warren was a box checker, seeking personal advantage on the backs of people who lived their lives with the down side of being Indian? The answer is on her employment application. If she’s guilty, it’s some evidence of a character flaw and a tragedy for the 99%.

Steve Russell, Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, is a Texas trial court judge by assignment and associate professor emeritus of criminal justice at Indiana University-Bloomington. He lives in Georgetown, Texas.