This story has been updated. A previous version incorrectly attributed a quote to Deborah Bolnick, University of Connecticut professor and the past president of the American Association of Anthropological Genetics.
Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s claim to have Native American ancestry is brewing up a storm online, with many Native Americans deriding the official for mistaking DNA with identity.
The subject dates back to the 1980s when Warren indicated she had distant Native American ancestors on law school faculty forms, but no documentation supporting her claims. After years of jabs from President Donald Trump, who nicknamed Warren “Pocahontas” in 2016 and said she has as much Native American blood as he did (none), Warren released a DNA report on her roots Monday.
“The results strongly support the existence of an unadmixed Native American ancestor in the individual’s pedigree, likely in the range of 6-10 generations ago,” Stanford University biomedical data science professor Carlos Bustamante, who analyzed Warren’s DNA, told Politifact.
Warren promoted the results of the DNA test in a short video.
“A DNA test does not make you Native!” Twitter user Emilio Reyes, who identifies as a Xicano, wrote. Others echoed Reyes’ sentiments.
Chicano journalist Simon Moya-Smith wrote in an op-ed for CNN.com. “While water protectors were being shot with water from cannons in freezing temperatures, while dogs were set on Natives protecting their ancestors' graves, and while Natives and allies were locked into ‘dog kennels,’ Warren's silence was deafening.”
Moya-Smith continued to point out Warren’s silence on police brutality against American Indians or the issue of sexual assault against Native women.
According to Amnesty USA, Native women are 2.5 times as likely to be sexually assaulted than women of any other group — and Natives are more likely to die at the hands of police than any other demographic, according to CNN.
“By way of policy and politics, there are few things the Massachusetts senator and I don't see eye-to-eye on,” he wrote. “But I can't ignore the fact the timing of her announcement is just a little too convenient.”
Though Warren’s test reveals she may have Cherokee blood, and though she was told her great-great-great-grandmother was Cherokee, “that doesn’t mean the woman was pure Cherokee,” Politifact reported.
“Different families and groups interacted in different ways with European settlers in the region," Deborah Bolnick, University of Connecticut professor and the past president of the American Association of Anthropological Genetics, told Politifact. “When there was intermarriage, the offspring sometimes became part of indigenous communities, and sometimes they identified with non-indigenous groups.”
There aren’t any genetic markers specific to tribal nations, she added. “The genetic patterns don’t map on to tribal groups that we recognize today.”
In a live interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper, Cherokee Nation Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr. added that it's “wholly unhelpful for any national leader to cling to DNA to establish that they are Native American in this country.”
The full statement from Cherokee Nation:
"A DNA test is useless to determine tribal citizenship. Current DNA tests do not even distinguish whether a person’s ancestors were indigenous to North or South America," Cherokee Nation Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr. said. "Sovereign tribal nations set their own legal requirements for citizenship, and while DNA tests can be used to determine lineage, such as paternity to an individual, it is not evidence for tribal affiliation. Using a DNA test to lay claim to any connection to the Cherokee Nation or any tribal nation, even vaguely, is inappropriate and wrong. It makes a mockery out of DNA tests and its legitimate uses while also dishonoring legitimate tribal governments and their citizens, whose ancestors are well documented and whose heritage is proven. Senator Warren is undermining tribal interests with her continued claims of tribal heritage."
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