Not My Tribe

Cherokee writer denounces Elizabeth Warren

Twila Barnes via her personal site
May 17, 2012

Cherokee writer Twila Barnes, whose blog chronicles fraudulent claims of Native American heritage, denounced Democratic Massachusetts Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren for disrespecting the Cherokee people and demanded that Warren apologize.

Barnes, a mother of four who is registered with the Cherokee nation of Oklahoma, claimed in an interview with the Washington Free Beacon Wednesday that many in the Cherokee community are offended by Warren’s unsubstantiated claim to Cherokee heritage.

"I have talked to many Cherokees about this subject, and they told me that they feel disrespected," Barnes said.

"There are people in the Cherokee nation who don’t have running water in their homes—people who have struggled their entire lives. And (Warren) thinks our heritage is just this pretty little thing she can tie around herself to get a prestigious position," she said.

"I talked to one Cherokee who said that Warren treats our heritage like a jacket—something she can put on when it’s useful to her, and then take off when she’s done with it," Barnes said.

The outrage in the Cherokee community compelled her to take action, she said.

Barnes published an open letter on her website Wednesday that claims to be a compilation of the sentiments of her fellow Cherokees. The letter reads, in part

"While you cling to a family story and the inaccurate report that ONE document was found that supports your claim, we real Cherokees understand that those things mean nothing," Barnes writes in the letter. "You see, for us Cherokees, this is not political. This is about the truth."

Barnes, who has been working with fellow Cherokee genealogists for the past five to six years, claims that she and her colleagues have done extensive research into Warren’s background.

"There is no evidence that Elizabeth Warren is a Cherokee," Barnes said. "Not at all."

The Boston Globe acknowledged in a correction Tuesday that no evidence exists to prove Warren's claim of Cherokee heritage. The Globe had previously reported on a document cited by the Warren campaign that purportedly showed a Warren ancestor to be Cherokee. The Globe admitted, "Neither the society nor the Globe has seen the primary document, whose existence has not been proven."

Barnes believes Warren’s actions may set a dangerous precedent.

"There are a lot of everyday people out there who might try to claim Cherokee blood because they see that Warren received a prestigious position by doing so," she said. "If that happens, then as we go along we won’t know who is Cherokee and who is not Cherokee."

Barnes said she and other Cherokees were offended by Warren’s claim that her grandfather (identified by Warren as her "papaw") had "high cheek bones, like all of the Indians do."

"I thought it was stereotypical and insulting," Barnes said. "Most of the Cherokees I talked to felt the same way."

"This is about citizenship in a nation, not about ‘looking like an Indian,’" Barnes said.

Barnes believes that Warren should apologize for the pain she has caused the Cherokee community.

"I think she should admit the truth, and then offer a heartfelt apology. An apology that people can actually believe. It won’t heal everything, but it will go a long way," she said.