Changing Elizabeth Warren's story to one about Native America

Crystal Echo Hawk writes: Millions of Americans have family stories about their Native ancestory.

The majority of Americans know little to nothing about Native Americans, our issues, or our contributions

Crystal Echo Hawk

Invisibility of Native peoples to most of America threatens our fundamental rights and the wellbeing of our children. We are invisible within government, Hollywood, the news media, and in our schools. It’s the reason that the president, lawmakers, and the media use derogatory racial stereotypical language about Native people with impunity. Our invisibility and erasure is seen as normal.

Then I watch and read about Elizabeth Warren and her DNA test. It feels like an alternative reality and its own horror show. I am reading tweets dripping in racism from President Donald J. Trump and his supporters co-opting quotes from the Cherokee Nation and other Native advocates about Warren for their own political agenda that has nothing to do with protecting tribal sovereignty.

Tucker Carlson of Fox News opened his segment two nights ago stating that “Fauxcahontas is on the warpath,” “Lieawatha is having her own trail of tears,” and “Elizabeth Warren appointed herself as the head of the #MeSioux Movement.” Carlson said all of these racist jibes in the same segment where he acknowledged the outrage felt by Native Americans.

The outrage is that these racist taunts have spread like wildfire across social media in the most hurtful ways. But where is the concern, or even outrage, when Native women go missing and murdered at rates higher than any other population, or that a federal court has ruled that the Indian Child Welfare Act is unconstitutional which will result in a policy that will take away our children?

For the first time since Standing Rock, tribes and Native people are all over the news and social media. However, the dominant coverage and national conversation is not about the Supreme Court and its sanction of North Dakota voter suppression.

Nor are there many stories about GOP Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s in-laws who made millions from government contracts by claiming membership in the Northern Cherokee Nation, an organization that falsely trades on the political status of tribal nations.

Instead, the national conversation is about Elizabeth Warren, her family story, and a DNA test taken in response to attacks by Trump. It’s a political war in which tribal citizens are not directly involved.

Trump and the media have conflated the language of ancestry and heritage to mean Native identity. So we must devote precious time and resources to make political statements about tribal citizenship because to most Native people, Native identity is directly tied to tribal citizenship.

Warren only ever claimed ancestry based on family story, she never claimed citizenship in a tribal nation nor has she in my research ever traded on her family story of having Native ancestry. This issue of ancestry and its tie to a political identity is different for Natives and non-Natives. It’s complicated and nuanced and doesn’t fit into 26 characters of a tweet or an op-ed.

Warren’s DNA test reveal is being equated by some as one of the biggest attacks on tribal sovereignty in recent memory. Others feel deeply mixed emotions about her claims, what she did on Monday, and how it was done without seemingly thinking about the consequences to tribal nations.

Others hear the simple fact that all Warren did was lay claim to a DNA test that some would argue supports her family story. She’s not claiming tribal citizenship. But the majority of Americans don’t know enough about Native people to understand this distinction.

The Reclaiming Native Truth project, a $3.3 million public opinion research and strategy setting project is the largest of its kind conducted by and for Native people. Its goal is to change perceptions, introducing America to its own history, to tribal sovereignty, and to issues important to us.

This two-year project took a hard look at the data. We mapped the dominant narratives and perceptions of a diverse group of people across the country, including members of Congress, judges, law clerks and influencers within philanthropy, business, media and civil rights.

This is what we found:

· The majority of Americans know little to nothing about Native Americans, our issues or contributions. Many Americans are not clear how many Native peoples still exist or at the very least they think we are a dwindling population in decline.

· A 2014 study found that 87 percent of schools do not teach about Native peoples past 1900.

· Representation of Native people in entertainment and media is less than 0.4 percent.

· Many Americans are informed by stereotypes and myths that all Native Americans receive federal government benefits [because they are “Indian”], are enriching themselves off of tribal gaming and are dysfunctional due to poverty, alcoholism and corruption.

· Many of the judges and law clerks interviewed admitted to knowing little about tribal sovereignty and Federal Indian Law.

· Some members of Congress shared that they believe that invisibility is a major issue and that the narrative about Native peoples and issues are still very much defined and controlled by non-Natives.

These public opinion findings show how invisibility, erasure, stereotypes and false narratives fit the stories being told right now about Elizabeth Warren, Donald Trump, and Native people in the 21st century.

Reclaiming Native Truth’s research was also able to identify a few ways to change the story. A poll conducted in 2017 found that 72 percent of Americans support significant changes to K-12 curricula about Native history, culture and contemporary issues. A second poll in April 2018 found that after Americans surveyed were given some basic, accurate facts about Native history and issues, that a majority were supportive of tribal sovereignty, the Indian Child Welfare Act, and would take steps to end racist mascots. And 78 percent of those polled said they wanted to know more, to learn about Native people. This finding is incredibly significant as Hollywood, the media, policymakers, philanthropy and others have always used our small population size to justify a lack of representation, media coverage, inclusion and investment.

Reclaiming Native Truth also identified segments of the American population that are likely to be allies or can be moved to become allies. Of these segments, 36 percent of Americans polled, claimed to have some Native ancestry. This is potentially a powerful bloc, allies who could demand support for tribal sovereignty or for more accurate stories from Hollywood or the news media.

Now we come back to Elizabeth Warren. She is one of millions of Americans who have family stories about her Native ancestors. Millions of people who are potential allies at time when tribal sovereignty and our basic rights are under siege.

We need good allies to partner with us to amplify our voices and to show up with us and support tribes on key issues.

We need to show up for our allies as well. The research shows that we will continue to struggle to protect our rights unless we make a concerted and intentional effort to change the story, to stop being invisible.

I believe Elizabeth Warren has made some real mistakes and she needs to do a lot better. I will support her while also holding her accountable.

As a tribal citizen of the Pawnee Nation, I will support her because she has never claimed tribal citizenship and she clearly supports tribal sovereignty and the inherent rights of tribes to determine our citizenship.

She is an ally who has lifted up on a national stage the issue of violence against Native women by asking Trump to donate his $1 million pledge to the National Indian Women's Resource Center.

My experience working with the Reclaiming Native Truth Project Research has taught me that we have more to gain from working with allies and educating them than trying to destroy them.

Let's build a house Indian Country that stands strong for tribal sovereignty, but also has plenty of room for those who are ready to stand shoulder to shoulder with us. We need allies because Standing Rock reminded us how powerful we are when we all come together, organize, and mobilize.

It’s past time for Native Americans to be visible.

Crystal Echo Hawk, Pawnee, is President & CEO, Echo Hawk Consulting, co-leader of the Reclaiming Native Truth Project, and is the founder of IllumiNative.#NativeTruth#IllumiNative

Comments (22)
No. 1-15
Michael Two Horses
Michael Two Horses

The Truth Will Do. Good to hear it from the inside for a change. How can I help? Turtle Island is all we have.

White Horse
White Horse

Actually Ms. warren made Native/minority claims multiple times at one point even offering Native precipices for a Native cookbook. visit this link to see the TRUTH!

Lenape88
Lenape88

Thank you Crystal for your well researched and vitally important artcle. So often these days there seems to be a lot of distraction coming out of the current administration.....and they seem to be taking advantage of this issue, in hopes that it will put a wedge in place, keep division so that allies are not accepted.

David Hollenshead
David Hollenshead

What it is like to be mixed: I get asked about my ancestry by dentists, Native Americans, Native Alaskans and other people who are also mixed European / First Nations. [Being almost six foot tall, and two feet wide, with the bone structure of my face, it is obvious that I'm mixed.] I also get asked about the so called "perks", and have to explain that without being a member of a Nation, there is only hate & discrimination.

Everyone involved with my mothers adoption is now dead, but like her mother, she is mixed. My grandmother had three grandparents of European ancestry and a Native American grandmother. My grandfather was a Prussian Jew, so both my mom's parents didn't discuss "ethnicity" and just tried to blend in, as both of my grandparents lost family due to ethnic cleansing.

My dad used African American hair products to hide the African in his ancestry, and yet when I asked him about the unnecessary fillings on the back side of his two upper front teeth, that an incompetent dentist in Ontario gave him when he was a child, the conversation just ends.

Because Native Americans, Native Alaskans, and Canadian First Nations people have been the most hated ethnic group in the history of the US and Canada, there was a need to try to hide your background, if you could. What I don't understand is the hostility, for being open about it, now that things are changing.

About a year ago I was ostracized from church, in part because they feared I would bring a weapon into a house of worship, because of how I look & dressed. When I tried to explain to the that I wear carharts and similar clothing because white people's clothing sizes don't fit me, I became a "liar" as well. My current church has members who are Native American, and strangely, many of look more European than I do. But then i look less European than my parents.

And yes, I find it offensive when someone tries to claim ancestry just to be cool. What they don't understand is that it just makes you the "other", without belonging, which has been my mom's and my experience...

Tiffene
Tiffene

Ancestry DNA claimed I had no Native blood in me, when I can easily trace it back. Ancestry DNA also regularly updates members to changes they have made, after getting more DNA.

I possibly might have to wait, until more Native people take the test. I do know my line is mixed (descendant or Quanah Parker.)

JackBilly71TL
JackBilly71TL

"I will support her while also holding her accountable"?.....Soooo, please put away the outrage and sensitive concerns. How much more fake is this opinion gotta be considering your "support" for POTUS-candidate 2020......

caniscandida
caniscandida

Thanks very much to Crystal Echo Hawk for this excellent article, which is the best I have read on this subject amidst the recent brouhaha, and the fairest to Senator Elizabeth Warren. As I understand the whole story of what Warren has said about her family background, it seems she really can only be faulted for allowing two law schools she was working for at different times, Penn and Harvard, to identify her as Native American, apparently so that they could use that datum to help them present themselves as having a more diverse faculty. She no doubt should have appreciated the gravity of those actions. At the same time she certainly deserves sympathy for her desire to honor the female elders of her family, as she has explained more recently.

alklev246
alklev246

Thank you Crystal Echo Hawk, for giving a calming voice in the midst of an evergrowing climate of discrimination. One day we shall arrive, but only if we listen, join as you suggest, those who stand with us for our tribal sovereignty, the right to safety, security, food security and an Earth where women and girls of First Nations walk without fear. And so much more. Thank you for your words.

guruji01
guruji01

<a href="http://gurumatag.com/best-astrologer-in-australia.php" >Best Astrologer in Australia</a>

apelbaumthebull
apelbaumthebull

Crystal Echo Hawk speaks the truth.

macholliday
macholliday

when will "Indian" people stop with the "me an Indian" attitude and begin to just be a HUMAN BEING...today racial profiling is all about SELF and not about being just a people...a human...no one today is a real INDIAN just like the BULL said...there ain't no more real Indians.....just Hollywood make believes......story book Indian holdovers...mythical "redman" of the forest and plains lives no more.....Warren is like a lot of others, a FAKE!!!! mea culpa.....

Sciamachy562119
Sciamachy562119

Elizabeth Warren lives in a $5.4-million-dollar mansion, claimed "Native American" status, to score a Harvard teaching gig paying $350,000 to teach one class, and now lectures us that "the system is rigged to benefit the rich." Professor Warren claimed that she was a Native American, in essence, she took a job away from a true Native American, which as you can see, she's not. That being said, she had an opportunity to actually make a decision throughout her career when she applied to Penn and Harvard and she checked the box claiming she was a Native American. When you are a United States Senator you have to pass a test, one of character and honesty and truthfulness. And I believe, and others believe, that she has failed that test.

blu2cloud
blu2cloud

Reading these stories about Warren & others gaining benefits just by claiming to be "Indian" is curious. Do you mean to say that universities like Harvard do not confirm these claims to a certain degree or the government does not confirm before delving out thousands of dollars in contracts? Anyone with an fraction of an nth degree of indigenous blood can gain these types of benefits? Really? If so, you can bet there will be plenty more these types of claims in the future. We really will not be "changing" the history it should be grossly corrected & not just on this continent. And, hopefully this information will be shared to include & benefit other indigenous that have suffered the exact same atrocities from the exact same peoples and for the exact same reasons - greed for land & resources. Information is knowledge.

Learning
Learning

I understand yet do not understand. In trying to learn more about my families history I discovered a very well hidden secret. Before she passed I showed my mother what I'd found. She told me that we could never talk about that. That if that secret got out many members of my family could be hurt terribly. Even before Mom walked on I started reading and contacting people about what I'd found. I had to understand what she was warning me about. The deep dark secret was that I have Ancestors that were Indigenous People. I'm going mention which People they were part of except that they were Canadian. I receive monthly email from leaders of that specific Nation. I'm an American not a Canadian by citizenship or birth, so I could never seek actual recognition. I feel a connection being honored with the friendship I've made. But I've also learned that Canadians are Status and Non-status. In Canada thats important. If I was Canadian and if I learned much more about my ancestors Peoples, maybe I could EARN recognition since I wasn't born to it. The percentage of my blood isn't an issue. I am Metis because I am a mix. In the USA the term Metis means nothing to those who carry a card or to the US Govt. My allegiance to the Canadian Peoples who accept what little support I can offer. I could never support the "Native American's" in the USA. The "Native American" does not want, seek, or accept our support. Like the article says there are a lot of us that could help. I don't understand!

Ghost Horse
Ghost Horse

The 2014 Reclaiming Native Truth Project explains the lack of awareness of the Covington juveniles at the Lincoln Memorial when Nathan Phillips agressively confronted them singing the AIM song with a hand drum mere inches from the face of an astonished juvenile non-Native boy.

Send this info to Nathan & Lakota Law Project.

So, Crystal Echo Hawk, you obviously are Democrat. Now Senator Warren has announced her run for 2020 prez, you gain both ways supporting her, and holding Warren hostage to her misdeeds. WARREN cherry-picked her DNA "test" with her buddy Carlos Bustamante who used Anonymous DNA samples from Columbia & Peru which, like Northern Asia DNA will match at certain sequences. Total Sham. Warren should ask her other living blood relatives to submit DNA also.

Warren was listed as Harvard's first Woman of Color in her Dept.

Like Espera Oscar di Corti was a famous actor named Iron Eyes Cody. Jay Silverheels an actor of Ottawa / Cree background lost jobs to Mr. Di Corti, an Italian American.....who claimed....CHEROKEE.

No hard feelings Crystal, I hope your covering for Warren pays off with a cool Govt job.