Elizabeth Warren calls for a 'reset' of relationship with tribal nations

Elizabeth Warren in Oklahoma City. (Photo via YouTube)

The Associated Press

Delaware Tribe: 'We don’t want to be involved'

Associated Press

Elizabeth Warren returned to Oklahoma Sunday for a campaign rally at the high school she once attended and held a private meeting with tribal leaders in Tulsa.

Warren spoke to more than 2,000 people at Northwest Classen, the Oklahoma City high school where she graduated, telling the familiar story of her family's struggle to maintain its foothold in the middle class in the early 1960s after her father had a heart attack and her mother returned to the workforce.

She also responded to a question from a member of the Kiowa Tribe about what policies she would embrace to help Native American people. She promised to maintain all of the U.S. trust and treaty obligations with tribal nations and to appoint a Cabinet-level post to represent them.

"This is an opportunity for us as a country to reset our relationship with the tribal nations and be the kind of America going forward that we want to be," she said.

Two of Warren's brothers, her husband, Bruce Mann, and several other members of her family attended Sunday's rally.

"I spent a lot of hours in this gymnasium," Warren said. "I watched them shoot hoops here, wrestle. I never thought I'd be down on the floor doing something like this."

Warren's nephew, Mark Herring, introduced his "Aunt Betsy."

"Our family is part Republican, part Democrat, and we all support her 100 percent," Herring said.

 

Kalyn Free, Choctaw, a Democratic national committeewoman from Oklahoma who attended the meeting with tribal leaders said that Warren addressed a number of issues facing Indian Country.

"It was a very thoughtful meeting," Free said. "She took questions one on one and engaged each of the tribal leaders. She took time to listen to what they had to say and gave very thoughtful responses to the issues."

Free said several tribes were represented, including the Caddo Nation, Shawnee Tribe and Alabama-Quassarte Tribal Town. 

Among the topics discussed were improving the federal Indian Health Service, upholding treaty obligations, improving education for Native American children and fighting substance abuse.

"It was a free-ranging discussion," Warren said later during a visit to Oklahoma City. "We talked about whatever tribal leaders wanted to talk about. I was really grateful for the opportunity to visit with them."

The issue of Warren's identity continued to surface. 

Warren had released the DNA analysis in October 2018, before entering the 2020 race, as she tried to defuse the issue. Trump had long mocked the Massachusetts senator for her ancestral claims and repeatedly referred to her as "Pocahontas," a racial slur he still employs. She said the analysis, performed by a Stanford professor, indicated she had some Native American heritage.

However Warren came under wide-spread criticism because DNA tests have nothing to do with tribal citizenship. The Cherokee Nation complained that Warren was "undermining tribal interests with her continued claims of tribal heritage," and in August, Warren offered a public apology at a forum on Native American issues, directly addressing an issue that had proved to be a political liability.

The Delaware Tribe told the Boston Globe it was passing on the private meeting. “She’s made these claims. We don’t know her. Personally, we wish her all the best — nobody’s bashing her,” said Nicky Kay Michael, a member of the tribal council, and a professor of Indigenous studies. “What we’re saying is, ‘We don’t want to be involved with it.’”

Free said other tribal leaders no longer see this as an issue and that was not the point of the meeting. "She didn't meet with them because of that issue," Free said. "She met with them because she genuinely cares about tribal leaders and the issues that are important to them."

Warren posted an extensive policy position on tribal issues last August. 

Oklahoma votes as part of the March 3 Super Tuesday presidential primary election.

Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in Oklahoma in 2016 by more than 36 percentage points, but the state's capital city is becoming increasingly diverse. Democrats picked up several state legislative seats in 2018's midterm election, and Democrat Kendra Horn knocked off a two-term GOP incumbent to win a congressional seat in Oklahoma City that had been in GOP hands for four decades.

Indian Country Today contributed to this story.

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