Sen. Elizabeth Warren reaffirmed her claims of Native American heritage during an address to community leaders on Wednesday, pushing back against President Donald Trump’s attacks on her ethnicity in the most expansive explanation yet about a controversy that has dogged her since her 2012 election campaign.
In a surprise visit to the National Congress of American Indians in Washington, the Massachusetts Democrat responded to those who have accused her of misleading voters about her ethnic background, according to prepared remarks of the address.
“You won’t find my family members on any rolls, and I’m not enrolled in a tribe,” Warren said. “And I want to make something clear. I respect that distinction. I understand that tribal membership is determined by tribes — and only by tribes. I never used my family tree to get a break or get ahead. I never used it to advance my career.”
Warren said mother’s family was “part Native American.”
“And my daddy’s parents were bitterly opposed to their relationship,” she said. “So, in 1932, when Mother was 19 and Daddy had just turned 20, they eloped.”
She added: “The story they lived will always be a part of me. And no one — not even the president of the United States — will ever take that part of me away.”
Questions surrounding Warren’s claims to Native American heritage — and the role it played in the advancement of her career in academia — have circulated since her first Senate bid. She had listed herself as a minority in a legal directory published by the Association of American Law schools from 1986 to 1995, and both Harvard University and the University of Pennsylvania listed Warren as a Native American in federal forms filed by the law schools while she worked there,.
Trump has repeatedly derided Warren, who says her family is part Cherokee, as “Pocahontas.” During a White House event to honor Native Americans at the White House in November, the president revived the derogatory nickname.
“You were here long before any of us were here,” Trump told Navajo leaders. “Although we have a representative in Congress who they say was here a long time ago. They call her Pocahontas.”
The president made his remarks in front of a portrait of President Andrew Jackson, known for his forceful removal of Native Americans from their ancestral lands. Warren on Wednesday took aim at Trump for holding Jackson in high regard.
“It is deeply offensive that this president keeps a portrait of Andrew Jackson hanging in the Oval Office, honoring a man who did his best to wipe out Native people,” she said.
Warren, whose racial lineage has been scrutinized by political detractors, has blasted Trump for attacking her with a “racial slur.”
“It is deeply unfortunate that the president of the United States cannot even make it through a ceremony honoring these heroes without having to throw out a racial slur,” she told MSNBC in November.
Warren, born in Oklahoma, has long defended her family’s ties to the Native American community but has yet to corroborate her heritage claims or provide documentation to substantiate them. In a recent interview with The Boston Globe, she said her awareness of her heritage came from family lore.
On Wednesday, Warren vowed to fight for the Native American community. She cited investments to be made, including stopping “giant corporations from stealing your resources,” expanding “federally protected land that is important to your tribes,” protecting “historic monuments like Bears Ears from companies that see it as just another place to drill,” and taking “steps to stop violence against Native people – including passing Savanna’s Act to fight the plague of missing Native women and girls.”