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Pocahontas, Fauxcahontas: Elizabeth Warren Just Stepped in it on 'Meet the Press'

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

Believe it or not, I was willing to give Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren the benefit of the doubt that she thought she was 1/32 Cherokee. Her belief (or hoax) was a non-issue until 2012 when she was running to unseat incumbent Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown. In 1984’s Pow Wow Chow cookbook, she signed her recipes “Elizabeth Warren – Cherokee,” and nobody cared. In the mid-1990s when she was tenured at Harvard Law School, she listed herself as a minority in a law school directory, and nobody cared. In 2012, everybody cared. Rush Limbaugh, who has a knack for nicknames, dubbed her Fauxcahontas. (Donald Trump—no slouch at nicknames himself—continues to carry her banner under the moniker Pocahontas.)


But maybe she was telling the truth.

She hails from Oklahoma where, apparently, everybody thinks they’re part Cherokee. A spokesman for the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma—the largest Cherokee tribe in the country with 300,000 members—said, "There's a running joke in Indian country: If you meet somebody who you wouldn't necessarily think is Native, but they say they're Native, chances are they'll tell you they're Cherokee." 

Oklahomans aren’t the only ones who think they’re part Cherokee. Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., known for his work with African-American genealogy, said the widespread belief in Indian ancestry “is the biggest myth in African-American genealogy: 'My great grandmother was a Cherokee princess,' " he says, adding, "The average slave and the average Native American didn't even see each other, which makes it very hard to mate."

So Elizabeth Warren can hardly be blamed if her family believed it had Indian blood and was proud enough to relay that tidbit to successive generations. That, apparently, is how Ms. Warren learned of her “heritage.” Referring to a photograph of her grandfather that sat on her family’s mantel, she commented, “My Aunt Bea has walked by that picture at least 1000 times, remarked that he—her father, my pappaw—had high cheekbones like all of the Indians do.”


This isn’t unreasonable. Many families “enhance” their histories in some way, either deliberately or through the years like the Telephone game where what is said at the beginning of the game resembles not at all what is said at the end. Like I said, benefit of the doubt, even though I am no Elizabeth Warren—a pox on both her houses—supporter. Fair is fair.

In 2018, she is running for reelection and appeared on Sunday’s Meet the Press with Chuck Todd. After six years of enjoying reasonable doubt about some high cheekbones, she slid a change-up our way.

So let me tell you the story of my family. My mother and daddy were born and raised in Oklahoma. My daddy first saw my mother when they were both teenagers. He fell in love with this tall, quiet girl who played the piano. Head over heels. But his family was bitterly opposed to their relationship because she was part Native American. They eventually eloped. They survived the Great Depression. The Dust Bowl. A lot of knocks. They raised my three brothers, all of whom headed off to the military, and me. And they fought. They loved each other. And most of all they hung together for 63 years. And that's the story that my brothers and I all learned from our mom and our dad, from our grandparents, from all of our aunts and uncles. It's a part of me, and nobody's going to take that part of me away.


Huh? Now it’s her parents’ marriage that “proves” she’s part Cherokee? And she heard the story straight from mom and pop? Well, that’s convenient, or would be if it weren’t invented out of wholecloth. It would seem that a woman as bright—it pains me to say it—as Elizabeth Warren would have gone for the big guns way back in 2012. “My mother is part Native American, and that’s why my father’s family opposed the marriage” is a heckuva lot more solid than high cheekbones in a black and white photograph. If it’s true. (That’s a rhetorical “if” because clearly it’s not.)

This is important because even though she insists, “I have no intention of running for president”—classic political double-speak—she is certainly thinking hard about it. She’s also being courted and pressured and cajoled and enticed and flattered by members of her party who badly want her to run. She smacks of Hillary-lite (please, no).

Isn’t it interesting that Hillary was once party to demonizing her husband’s accusers as liars, bimbos, and trailer trash only to campaign heartily in 2016 that every woman deserves to be heard? And now Elizabeth Warren is pretending it’s no sleight of hand to substitute the “proof” of her parents’ marriage for that of her grandfather’s photograph. What a savvy politician. When she suddenly finds the intention to run for president, she might even win her party’s nomination.


But my money’s on California Senator Kamala Harris for Democratic nominee in 2020. As California’s Attorney General, Harris ran for and won her Senate seat in 2016 with nary a word about her Indian and Jamaican heritage. It seems that when ethnic heritage is for real it’s a non-issue. When it’s a political ploy, it’s probably not for real.

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