BOSTON >> That “Pocahontas” taunt must have rankled.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s release today of a DNA analysis that she does indeed have Native American ancestry is a pointed pushback to Donald Trump’s derisive nickname for her. It also looks like an attempt by the Massachusetts Democrat to defuse the issue ahead of a potential 2020 challenge to Trump.
A look at what’s known about Warren and her Native American heritage.
WHY WARREN’S ANCESTRY MATTERS
The first-term Democratic senator’s critics have accused Warren of advancing her career by claiming minority status as a descendant of Cherokee and Delaware tribes. Warren was born in Oklahoma and went on to become a professor at Harvard Law School.
It’s not clear Warren’s hiring there or anywhere else had anything to do with her heritage. She’s denied using it to get ahead.
Warren acknowledged that she had identified herself as a minority in a legal directory for nearly a decade, and she was listed as a Native American in federal forms filed by the law schools at Harvard University and University of Pennsylvania where she worked, The Boston Globe reported in 2012.
Harvard University’s decision to hire Warren as a law professor in the 1990s was not based on any assertion that she has Native American heritage, The Globe found. The newspaper reported that interviews and documents show the issue was not considered by Harvard Law faculty or those who admitted Warren to law school at Rutgers or to jobs at The University of Houston, The University of Texas, and the University of Pennsylvania.
THE DNA TEST
The DNA analysis Warren released Monday provides strong evidence she does have Native American heritage. It was done by Stanford University professor Carlos D. Bustamante, a prominent expert in the field.
In a five-minute, campaign-style video, Warren asks him: “The president likes to call my mom a liar. What do the facts say?”
Bustamante replies: “The facts suggest that you absolutely have Native American ancestry in your pedigree.” He says the test carries an error rate of “less than one in 1,000.”
Bustamante determined Warren’s pure Native American ancestor appears “in the range of six to 10 generations ago.”
That meshes with an 1894 document the New England Genealogical Society unearthed suggesting that her great-great-great-grandmother, O.C. Sarah Smith, was at least partly Native American. That would make Warren 1/32nd Native American.
But if her ancestor is 10 generations back, that could mean she’s just 1/1024th Native American if the ancestor is 10 generations back, according to The Globe. That could further excite her critics instead of placating them.
Trump told a rally crowd in Montana this summer that that he’d be willing to pay Warren to submit to a DNA test, just as he’d offered in 2012 to pay up if former President Barack Obama produced his birth certificate.
“I will give you a million dollars to your favorite charity, paid for by Trump, if you take the test and it shows you’re an Indian,” he said as he acted out what he would say to Warren if they were ever on a debate stage together. “I have a feeling she will say no. But we’ll hold that for the debates.”
On Monday Warren tweeted her charity of choice: The National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center.
Moments later, Trump denied making such an offer: “I didn’t say that,” Trump told reporters at the White House.
“Having some memory problems, @realDonaldTrump?” Warren, 69, tweeted to the president, 72. “Should we call for a doctor?”
Trump is fond of referring to Warren as “the fake Pocahontas,” a reference to a Powhatan woman associated with the colonial settlement at Jamestown, Virginia. At the White House last November, he interrupted his speech honoring Native American war heroes standing around him to invoke the nickname.
“You were here long before any of us were here,” Trump said as he honored three Navajo code talkers from World War II. He added, without naming Warren: “We have a representative in Congress who they say was here a long time ago. They call her Pocahontas. But you know what, I like you.”
Native American leaders have called Trump’s mockery insensitive and an example of prejudice.
WHAT WARREN SAYS
Warren told the National Congress of American Indians last February that her family’s story is lore, not recorded on any tribal rolls.
“I respect the distinction. I understand that tribal membership is determined by tribes — and only tribes,” she said. “I never used my family tree to get a break or get ahead. I never used it to advance my career.”
Warren says the Native American ancestry comes from her mother, born in Eastern Oklahoma in 1912. Pauline Reed’s family was against her marriage to Donald Herring, so the two eloped in 1932.
“I get it: @realDonaldTrump is afraid of facts. But I’m not,” Warren tweeted on Monday, along with the video and website containing the documents. “A deep, independent investigation shows my background played no role in any job I got.”
IS SHE RUNNING?
Sure seems like it.
Warren, an economic populist and leading voice of the #MeToo movement, said last month in Holyoke, Mass., that she’ll take a “hard look at running for president” after the November elections. In August, she’s posted 10 years of tax returns online.
An attendee at a town hall asked Warren if she planned to run for president.
Warren replied that it’s time “for women to go to Washington to fix our broken government, and that includes a woman at the top.”
“I hope she’s running for president,” Trump told reporters on Monday, “‘cause I think she’d be very easy.”