Elizabeth Warren's Native American heritage has become a major source of contention for the 2020 presidential candidate. Here's everything you need to know.

(AP Photo/Nati Harnik)Sen. Elizabeth Warren addresses an overflow crowd outside an organising event at in Council Bluffs, Iowa, January 4, 2019.
  • Political opponents and critics have seized on Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s claim that she is Native American for years.
  • Even after the released of DNA test results that indicated Native American ancestry, Warren has been targeted by figures like President Donald Trump, who still rejects Warren’s claim.
  • In her first stop as a likely candidate for 2020, Warren drew a clear line in the sand about the issue, but her claims have been picked apart for years and criticism doesn’t seem to be dying down.

Less than a week after launching an exploratory committee for a presidential run in 2020, Sen. Elizabeth Warren hit the campaign trail, starting with a town hall in Iowa.

An audience member asked Warren about her decision to release the results of a DNA test after nearly two years of back-and-forth with President Donald Trump over her claims that she has Native American ancestry.

This is the second campaign that has been tinged with confusion over Warren’s claim, the first of which ended as a victorious flip of a Massachusetts Senate seat.

From a DNA test to her law school application, here’s everything you need to know about the controversy.

The debate over Warren’s Native American ancestry began in 2012, during a tense bid to unseat a Republican senator in Massachusetts.

The Boston Herald found a 1996 article in the Harvard student newspaper quoting a spokesman for the Law School boasting that then-professor Warren was Native American. In reviewing diversity among Harvard faculty, The Crimson wrote “Although the conventional wisdom among students and faculty is that the Law School faculty includes no minority women, Chmura said Professor of Law Elizabeth Warren is Native American.”

David L Ryan/The Boston Globe via Getty ImagesProf. Elizabeth Warren of Harvard Law, April 4, 2001.

Source: The Crimson, Boston Herald

Records indicate that various points in her career, Warren went between identifying as white and Native American. The year before she was hired at the University of Pennsylvania, 1986, she listed herself as a ‘Minority Law Teacher’ on the American Association of Law Schools directory, a tip sheet for school administrators. She continued to list herself as such until 1995 and was repeatedly referenced as a minority in Penn’s yearly equity report.



The Washington Post

However, in Warren’s application to Rutgers, where she attended law school, records show that she didn’t identify herself as a minority. When asked if she was interested in applying under the “Program for Minority Group Students’’ Warren answered, “no.” In employment documents from her time on faculty at the University of Texas, Warren identified herself as “white.”

University of TexasElizabeth Warren was said to identify as a Republican when she conducted research at University of Texas at Austin Law School.

Source: Boston.com

Warren’s campaign never offered conclusive evidence, but she told reporters that “being Native American is part of who our family is and I’m glad to tell anyone about that. I am just very proud of it.”

In a campaign ad released to quell the controversy, Warren admitted she had never asked her mother for proof that her family was part-Cherokee and part-Delaware, but cited it as the reason her parents had to elope. “I knew my father’s family didn’t like that she was part-Cherokee and part-Delaware, so my parents had to elope,” said Warren.

The 2012 race also marked the first instance that Warren’s political opponent went after her claim. Then-Sen. Scott Brown objected to what he said was claiming to be “a person of colour,” saying in a debate “as you can see, she’s not.”

Source: ABC News

The New England genealogical society at first backed Warren’s claim, but upon further investigation, retracted their support, re-igniting the debate.

Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty ImagesSenate candidate Warren speaks to constituents at a campaign event in Scituate, Massachusetts, May 5, 2012.

Source: The Atlantic

By 2016, Warren had become a high-profile Democrat and vocal critic of then-candidate Donald Trump, giving speeches that criticised his past business interests, low favorability among women, and saying, among other things, that he was “kissing the fannies of the poor Wall Street bankers.”

Source: Business Insider

Trump responded by openly mocking Warren, even calling her “Pocahontas” at a November 2017 event to honour Navajo code talkers at the White House. The jab was immediately condemned as a slur by Warren and Native American leaders.

Source: Axios

In July 2018, Trump again took aim at Warren’s claims, challenging her to prove her “Indian” heritage with a DNA test, pledging $US1 million to a charity of her choice if she did.

Source: RollCall

On October 15, 2018, Warren released a report from a Stanford University geneticist who analysed Warren’s DNA and said test results suggested that Warren “absolutely” has a Native American ancestor. The report said that Warren had a pure Native American ancestor “in the range of six to 10 generations ago.”

Source: Business Insider

Trump responded to the results by calling Warren’s claims a “scam and a lie,” and suggesting that Harvard, where Warren worked as a professor, would not have “taken her” without a claim to such heritage.

However, an exhaustive investigation from The Boston Globe found this angle that both Brown and Trump had touted to be unsubstantiated, based on a review of Warren’s employee files and more than 100 interviews with colleagues and hiring managers across multiple universities.

Leif Skoogfors/Corbis via Getty ImagesProfessor Elizabeth Warren teaches an unspecified class at University of Pennsylvania Law School, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, early 1990s

Source: The Boston Globe

As for tribal citizenship, such test results are not accepted as proof, and the test was sharply rejected by Cherokee Nation Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr. who said connecting DNA to Native American citizenship “even vaguely, is inappropriate and wrong.”

Andreas Rentz/Getty Images

Source: Insider

Bustamante’s analysis found DNA segments in her sample matched with segments from people native to Mexico, Peru, and Colombia, meaning Warren likely had a Native American relative about eight generations ago.

However, DNA cannot determine a connection to a specific tribe, only genetic markers from Native American people.

Warren herself clarified that her family ties do not earn her tribal citizenship, which she said in early January “is very different from ancestry.” Warren added: “Tribes and only tribes determine tribal citizenship and I respect that difference.”

Source: Business Insider

Though Warren successfully answered Trump’s challenge, the debacle seems to have staying power, at least in the first week of Warren’s road to the 2020 presidential election.

Trump has already tweeted a meme mocking Warren’s heritage in the context of her 2020 campaign.

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