The white supremacy of Elizabeth Warren

Twila Barnes

Elizabeth Warren has exhibited a wide-ranging pattern of dishonesty and contempt for Indigenous communities that disqualifies her candidacy for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination

Twila Barnes and Cole DeLaune

If you're confused by the controversy over Elizabeth Warren's lack of documented Indigenous ancestry, it's easy to understand why. The saga of Senator Warren's long history of self-identification as a Native American has percolated in political media outlets for almost seven years, splashing into the news cycle at once sporadically and persistently in an awkward, jerky tempo that has yielded an abundance of misinformation and optical dissonance surrounding both the senator herself and her record of conduct toward tribal peoples. The serialized manner in which the most disturbing details about Warren have leaked into salient press coverage – coupled with conscious efforts by the senator to alternately dodge the flap and leverage it to her advantage – have obscured a wide-ranging pattern of dishonesty and contempt for Indigenous communities that disqualifies her candidacy for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.

Let’s start with some clarifications:

  • Warren is white, both phenotypically and culturally. There is absolutely no genealogical evidence that she has ancestors from North American Indian nations.[1] (Although Christopher Child of the New England Historic And Genealogical Society touted the discovery a “marriage certificate” in May 2012 that bolstered Warren’s claims, his find was quickly debunked – the document in question, it turned out, doesn’t exist and the Society made clear that it “has not expressed a position on whether Mrs. Warren has Native American ancestry, nor do we possess any primary sources to prove that she is.”[2]) The results of the genetic testing she infamously released last October relied on comparisons to markers derived from Native populations in Latin America rather than the continental United States.[3] And such testing remains a dubious enterprise at best – just several months before Warren, a dog in Canada tested positive for Indigenous DNA.[4] [5]
  • Warren did not just innocently share “family lore.” As the Boston Globe first reported, the senator identified herself as Native American in federally mandated diversity statistics for at least six years while a professor at Harvard Law School despite lacking the “tribal affiliation” outlined in those documents.[6] Contemporaneously, Harvard repeatedly touted Warren as an example of ethnic diversity among Law School faculty to academic press outlets, championing her as the institution’s “only tenured minority woman” and “first woman of color.” The University of Pennsylvania – at which Warren taught prior to Harvard – likewise cited her in a “Minority Equity Report.”[7] And Warren admitted that she had listed herself for a full decade as a “minority” in Association of American Law School Directories from 1986 until 1995, the year she secured tenure at Harvard.[8] 
  • Warren never engaged with Indigenous cohorts on the campuses in question. Although the implicit purpose of diversity initiatives is to ensure representation of perspectives informed by a variety of cultures, the executive director of Harvard’s Native American Program could not recall Warren ever participating in any of its undertakings.[9][10]
  • Warren can’t keep her prevarications straight about how and why she identified as Native American. In the primary days of her 2012 Senate campaign, she professed to be wholly unaware that Harvard had been promoting her as a minority (“I think I read it on the front page of the Herald”).[11] Then, she insisted that she had never formally declared herself a minority (“there was no, there is no reporting for this. It came up in lunch conversations once with faculty, after the fact.”)[12] She maintained that she had never claimed distinction as a minority to any employers until after she was hired, those Association of American Law School directories – frequently used by law schools during the 1980s for recruiting – apparently notwithstanding. Now, after the emergence last week of a 1986 application to the Texas State Bar on which she described her race as “American Indian,” Warren offers a starkly different characterization than she did seven years ago of just how pervasively she identified herself as an indigenous woman: “All I know is, during this time period this is consistent with what I did.”[13]
  • Warren has trucked in reductive stereotypes about physical features to justify her ethnic posturing. When Indigenous lineage and tribal links are out of the picture, “high cheekbones” are all you’ve got.[14]

Surreally, neither the extensive scope of Warren’s deceit nor her blithe ignorance about the heritage in which she continues to costume herself is even the most disquieting reflections of her clear disdain for Indigenous America. For those, one may refer to Warren’s years-long evasion of and attacks against Native voices who have expressed concerns about her background and behavior. 

During the summer of 2012, in the company of fellow Cherokee women united by a desire to educate and invest tribal perspectives into the contemporary discourse, I traveled to Massachusetts to seek an audience with Warren’s team. The campaign agreed to the meeting via the Boston press only to renege upon our arrival and falsely malign us as the pawns of “right-wing extremists.” It stonewalled Indian Country Today, the largest Indigenous news platform in the country.[15] It ignored Cherokee protestors at the state nominating event.[16] It rebuffed overtures from Indigenous delegates at the Democratic National Convention.[17]

In summary: when confronted with Indigenous perspectives that posed an obstacle to her personal advancement, Warren’s carefully calculated response was to pretend that we didn’t exist.

It was a strategy that would define the majority of Warren’s freshman term in Congress. With a comfortable electoral victory in her rearview, she shrugged off her ethnic “pride” as readily as she self-segregated from the tribe with which she claimed kinship on the stump.[18] She remained largely quiet on the cares and galvanizing causes of Native peoples. She even called for the arrest of Greg Grey Cloud, a Crow Creek Sioux activist protesting the Keystone XL pipeline from the Senate gallery.[19]

Eventually, of course, the DNA debacle of her own making forced Warren to deliver a qualified mea culpa. But she has never acknowledged – much less apologized for – her active hostility toward the Indigenous critics who first tried to reach out to her and then strived to hold her to account. She has unequivocally failed in the most foundational moral duties of her position: to listen, to engage, and to represent. For almost six years, she intentionally did what colonialism has always done to people of Indigenous origin: she has erased us from our own story.

And the fallout is real and concrete. Right now, left-leaning media reeks with the condescension of nominal white progressives – numerous prominent pundits and reporters among them – all too willing to dismiss and demean the insights of their Indigenous counterparts. Because of their Twitter commentary on the subject, Ryan Grim, DC bureau chief of The Intercept, accused Cherokees of “doing Trump’s work” and “enabling his abject racism.”[20] Reporter Thor Benson of The Rolling Stone and The Daily Beast sneered at the “virtue signaling” of critiques about Warren by a Dine/Inhanktowan Dakota author.[21] In an article denounced by the Native American Journalists Association[22], The Huffington Post’s Jennifer Bendery minimized the chorus of Native qualms on the matter (even from the Cherokee Nation Secretary of State) as “crickets.”[23] Bill Maher lectured his television viewers, “If you think this stupid, blown-out-of-proportion Indian controversy makes her inauthentic, you’re the phony.”[24]

What a perfect illustration of the evolution of white supremacy: first, Euro entitlement to Native territories; then, white entitlement to Native identity sans the cultural contexts that confer meaning on said identity; and, now, inevitability, the ascendancy of white presumption to literally dictate how Natives should think and feel. This is the malignant legacy of Elizabeth Warren – bringing out the chauvinistic worst in the ostensible best and normalizing scorn for perspectives of color.

Of course, the Senator has predicated her career on a second false identity: that of a warrior for the disenfranchised. Her animosity toward one of the most systematically oppressed demographics in the nation’s history emphatically underscores that she is not only an ethnic impostor but an ideological fraud as well. Black and Latinx voters in pivotal primary states should ask themselves how they can trust a politician who spent years determinedly avoiding the minority community to which she contends she belongs. And her competitors for the Democratic nod must roundly denounce the insidious racism of her actions and her cavalier marginalization of Indigenous points of view that challenge her pursuit of power.

“This is the fight of our lives,” Warren declared earlier this month at the launch of her 2020 run. Inconveniently for her, Indigenous Americans have been fighting for their lives for generations.

We’ve survived invasions and epidemics. We’ve endured occupations. We’ve outlasted efforts to annihilate and acculturate us out of existence.

We’re still here.

And we’re not going to be silent.

Twila Barnes, Cherokee, is a genealogist with over 10 years' experience and is registered with the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. She is also a writer, most widely known for her Cherokee history and genealogy site "Polly's Granddaughter." Follow her on Twitter as @pollysgdaughter. Cole DeLaune, Kiowa, is a freelance writer, editor, and author. He is a member of the Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma.

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Comments (27)
No. 1-12
S Jonson
S Jonson

I fully understand you, but I sincerely think Warren has the opportunity to learn, and she actually has done so, although very, VERY slowly. See the following articles: February 2018: A year later: Also: And I quote that third article: "At worst, Warren may have stretched the bounds of the definition of whiteness. That’s understandable. She grew up in Oklahoma, a state created from Indian Territory. She probably witnessed the disrespect and occasional brutality that Native Americans were, and still are, subject to. [...] She has stressed that she is not a member of a tribal nation. [...] [Warren] didn’t call nations populated primarily by black or brown people “shitholes.” [...] She didn’t characterize black neighborhoods as war zones. She didn’t assert that an American president was born in Africa. [...] She hasn’t insulted Native Americans by calling a leading politician “Pocahontas” and joking about the Trail of Tears in the 1830s. Warren got no career benefit from her self-designation. At every step of her exceptional rise in the legal profession, those responsible for hiring her saw her as a white woman." I'm surprised you didn't mention any of the above. I think the way for her to come around, or at least publicly apologize, is if Native activists disrupt her 2020 campaign rally, as Black Lives Matter protestors did with Sanders' and Clinton's 2016 campaigns.


I agree with Twila Barnes on Warren’s lies and hypocrisy but don’t blame that on white people, Warren treats whites who don’t agree with her, who she finds inconvenient in the same manner. Crying white supremacy is not only wrong, as Warren isn’t doing that, she’s a proponent of the socialist/communist plantation slavery state, it’s beneath you Miss Barnes. You are better and more intelligent than that. Elizabeth Warren has contempt for ALL who won’t bow to her corrupt ideology. Her attitude is shared by ALL leftists and they include black brown and white (including all shades in between). I’m a former democrat from Massachusetts, I became an independent in 2010 after realizing I couldn’t respect myself if I remained a democrat. Because the party was creating massive poverty, displacing and dispossessing poor and struggling Americans, creating massive homelessness for profit. The left are doing the same thing, scratch a leftist and you find a fascist.


Thank you for this article. I was not aware of all that was involved with her behavior around all of this. As a white person she needs to own her untrue historical claims of saying she is Indigenous when she is not, and publicly share her process of cultural appropriation so other white colonizer descendants can see how it is done. She can put a positive spin on it and ignore it or take responsibility and own it.

David Hollenshead
David Hollenshead

Mrs. Twila Barnes, There is an issue that seems to be rather invisible, those of us who don't pass as white but lack a family history & obviously "blood quantum". My mother was adopted in 1940 by a Prussian Jewish doctor and his European / Native wife, a nurse. I know that my mother's biological mother was a catholic bording school student who was sexually assaulted. But then if my grandparents had adopted a 100% white baby, they would have endangered their own safety,

This is no surprise, as while I have a European Complexion, my bone structure and even teeth are Native. At under six feet tall, my shoulders take half the transit bus seats on either side of me, and by junior high school "white people's" clothing and shoe sizes no longer fit me. When I had dental complications, the oral surgeon said "I wish you had mentioned your Native American Ancestry.

The catch is the only ethnic group that people like me fit in appears to be "the other". While ignorant racists might view me a "funny looking white man", racists who know the different ethnic groups view me as an example of Miscegenation of their precious "white race". I still remember looking up "Miscegenation" in the dictionary, after an encounter with a very angry & aggressive police officer in my youth.

I would never try to claim membership in a First Nation, and yet I also have encountered hostility from Native people, for asking questions like "do you know how I can buy shoes that fit??" & "do you know how I can buy a suit that fits ??". [The only suit for job interviews that I owned that fit, was one that had been tailor to fit a Native American, and which I bought from a used clothing shop.] The big question is not about Senator Warren, but rather about Americans & Canadians who clearly​ have Native and non-Native ancestors...



If you look at Elizabeth Warren’s actions on behalf of all Americans, you would know that her heart is good. She created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. It isn’t her fault that she has not had elders of the First Nations to educate and inform her with regards to First American concerns. Many people, including white people, do not know how to reach out to help - to befriend the first people without coming across as ignorant hypocrites. The thing is, many good people with all colors of skin, do want to help right wrongs done to all human beings, including the first peoples. If I had Twila Barnes communication skills - before writing such an obviously prejudiced and hateful article, I would talk to Elizabeth Warren person-to-person and learn what is in her heart. The sad thing about this article by Twila is that it is using the same actions that “white supremacists” use to harm people, that is, using mean words like “white supremacist” to label Elizabeth and turn her into a nonperson, a thing. We can not turn back the clock and return the world to what it was 700 years ago, but we can agree that we need to fight against “man’s inhumanity to man.” The truth is bad people can come from any tribe and wear any color of skin. Fully Human people, which to me is people who are the best that humans can be, people who love, not hate, people with good heart, helping other to thrive, =this is the tribe we all should want to belong to.


I am so happy to see this because white folks are driving me crazy by acting like Warren was just an innocent bystander in the active theft of identity. It appears to me that stories told by white ancestors are now supposed to be given more weight than Tribal Law, and lived experience. I am not Native. I have never considered claiming I am, even though my family tells the same tall tales as her family.

We have done DNA tests on various members, and some show a significant percentage (25%) Native American, yet, we are Black. Always have been. We also show a significant share of White DNA, up to 60%. We are still Black. When it come to race, only white people even think to claim a race that is different than their parents' races.

So, to the people chiding you about calling this white supremacy, ask yourselves this:

Is Barack Obama white?

If you do not accept him as a white man based on his bloodline, how can you be Indian based on your high cheekbones, and family bible? Stop trying to be exotic, stop playing games, stop wearing other people's skin to negate your place in this world as the offspring of colonizers. You have white privilege, be grateful. You don't want to BE the oppressed, the marginalized, or the powerless. You just want to dress up in their skin. STOP IT.

I've spent the past week with supporters of Liz being their ridiculously white, huffy, outraged selves over Liz being a shameless appropriator. Watching the white women club attack my small group of Blacks, Natives, lgbt, and allies has been eye opening. I now know not to trust her on black issues. Does she even keep her promises to Native? Then why would she keep a promise to me, she hasn't even become black yet. Maybe next year she'll find a family story about a black ancestor, and become Harriet Tubman.

With respect, I'll take your word over hers.


This article appeared in my Facebook feed today August 21st nearly 6 months after it was posted, likely because Elizabeth Warren's issues with Indigenous communities aren't going away nor should they. A couple of days ago at the Native American Forum she offered up a vague apology for her "mistakes." The press assumed it was for her DNA stunt, but she didn't actually say, nor was there a specific apology for ignoring the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and their allies being brutalized at the Dakota Access Pipeline nor other things mention in this article. She said in her apology she "learned" so much, but given her opportunistic behavior, did she really learn anything of value or just feeble attempts at damage control?


If you didn’t have so much hate in your heart you would look at the good work Elizabeth Warren does on behalf of regular people. She is trying to stop the corruption in Washington - you are just full of it.


I wouldn’t vote for Bernie if you paid me to. Bernie is just as bad as she is. He tried to turn our maternal mortality rate into a class issue. Both push white centered populism that will do nothing for the Black community. Kamala Harris is the only one centering race in her maternal health bill, her investment in Black Buisness and HBCUs and the answer to white supremacy is not to put more white ppl in power. I would support Biden over Bernie though. At least I know he would pick a Black Woman as a running mate. He also has a history with us. He was Obama’s VP when Obama signed EOs to phase out private prisons, he cut Black unemployment in half, he signed EOs to end housing segregation that 45 rolled back, he enacted the ACA That insured millions of Black ppl, including me, with the Medicaid expansion, and he gave Federal aid to Flint. White ppl expected both Kamala and Biden to clean up 400 years of racism they created on their own. Kamala brought down drug convictions, mass incarceration and truancy numbers which in turn kept our youth out of the racist system Bernie has ignored in lily white Vermont. I don’t care that he went to a few protests back in his day; a lot of white ppl did, and like Bernie, we haven’t heard from them since. Both Bernie and Warren promise free things to white ppl and have convinced them they’re oppressed. Their universal programs won’t benefit us in the least. White ppl hate Kamala bc her programs center us first. I won’t vote for either Bernie or Warren.. ever. Warren and Bernie both foster white supremacy and the harm they both have caused for marginalized ppl is a deal breaker for me


The democrats will say anything I look at the Side to socialism


When Trump was campaigning for the first time, I saw positive support and an ICT article with much unfounded reasons and pleading not to vote for Hillary. I am 4/4 Dineh and I am appalled by our people going contrary almost on every issue. Wake up! We have a candidate in Warren that advocates structural changes with far reaching equity in our financial system and you make it personal. Very selfish. My nieces born by my sister with a Norwegian father look more Euro-American than Warren. There are many Navajo elderly that have an uncanny resemblance to Warren. Please think of the whole not your personal fractional views.