The Cherokee Nation

I like a lot of what Massachusetts senator and presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren has to say, but the fact remains that she repeatedly and deliberately claimed Cherokee ancestry over the course of her academic career, for the sake of whatever boost that particular valence of identity would give to it. Frankly, I don’t understand how people can get away with this grift. Unlike the categories of “Hispanic” and “African-American,” “Native American” is buttressed by a specific legal status. The “Cherokee grandmother” (or worse, “Cherokee princess”) that you’re supposedly descended from might be interesting to you, but it is of no more moral significance than having Italian or Irish ancestors. Unless you are a member of a federally-recognized tribe, then you don’t get to say that you’re a Native American! Alas, a buyer’s market exists for these claims: liberal academic institutions are so desperate for American minorities, both as students and faculty, that they (apparently) won’t investigate them too deeply. But it is still fundamentally dishonest, not much different from plagiarism, that is, stealing someone else’s stuff and passing it off as your own, which is the unforgivable academic sin.* 

I was glad, therefore, to read this piece by Rebecca Nagle on Huffpost Personal (hat tip: Funk Heritage Center):

The center of this controversy is not Warren’s political career, it is Cherokee sovereignty and self-determination. The monster I am trying to wrestle to the ground is not one white woman who claimed to be Cherokee. It is the hundreds of thousands of white people claiming to be Cherokee and the broad social acceptance that emboldens them. It threatens the future of my tribe. Warren is just the most public example.

When white people took over our land, they outnumbered us. Today, Cherokees are once again outnumbered by outsiders, claiming not our land, but our identity. In the last U.S. census, there were more white people claiming to be Cherokee than there are Cherokee citizens enrolled in our tribes. These fakes are writing our history, selling our art, representing us to the United Nations, fighting for the same legal status as our tribe, and stealing millions of dollars from federal programs set aside for people of color. And they all have stories that sound just like Warren’s. 

Read the whole thing

* Of course, we could obviate this entire problem by not caring about someone’s racial, ethnic, or sexual identity, but that’s not the world we live in, alas. 

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