Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Two incompatible tests of American Indian identity for Elizabeth Warren

Elizabeth Warren has been getting flak from American Indian Democrats over the question of whether she can claim a Cherokee heritage.

One test is racial.  Karen Geronimo, a Mescalero Apache, said, "“Someone needs to make her take a DNA test."

The other test is tribal. Jim La Pointe of the Rosebud Sioux said, “I’d like to hear her speak her native language."

Karen Geronimo's test is meaningless, unless you think race matters. Historically, American Indians didn't care about race. Like the Greeks and Romans, the test that mattered to them was the one Jim La Pointe suggests: when you speak, do your people understand you?

Elizabeth Warren might pass the DNA test. But that would make her a Cherokee in the same way a DNA test would make me a Celt.

Warren has responded as well as she possibly could to the controversy:

She doesn't say this, but her response is based on something that's true: Who you are has more to do with who you think you are than what your genes can say.

Quotes from The Party - For Elizabeth Warren, Bad Blood Over Indian Heritage Claims.