The Timeline of Elizabeth Warren's Native American Controversy

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Scott Eisen/Getty Images)
February 6, 2019

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.) will announce Saturday she's officially running for president with a speech in Lawrence, Massachusetts, but she'll do it after another week of controversy surrounding her longtime claims of Native American ancestry.

The latest blow: The Washington Post reporting Warren wrote "American Indian" as her race for her State Bar of Texas registration card in 1986. It marked the first known example of Warren making such a claim in her own handwriting. She apologized Tuesday in response to the report for identifying herself with that race, both then and when she taught law at Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania.

This followed her widely panned DNA test release in October, which was intended to offset criticisms by President Donald Trump to prove her claims of Native ancestry. She wound up having to apologize to the Cherokee Nation for "causing confusion on tribal sovereignty and tribal citizenship," according to a tribal spokeswoman.

Here's a timeline of key moments and quotes in Warren's saga of claims to Native American ancestry.

1984: Warren contributes five recipes to a "Pow Wow Chow" cookbook in Oklahoma and is identified as "Cherokee" under each of them.

April 18, 1986: Warren lists her race as "American Indian" on her State Bar of Texas registration card. She does so by writing the words out in blue ink.

1986 to 1995: Warren lists herself as a minority in the Association of American Law Schools desk book, when she taught law at the University of Texas and later the University of Pennsylvania before joining Harvard Law School in 1995. In an April 30, 2012 report in the Boston Globe, a Warren spokeswoman says she was simply "proud of her heritage."

Sept. 14, 2011: Warren announces she's running for the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate to challenge Republican Sen. Scott Brown.

April 27, 2012: The Boston Herald reports Harvard Law School officials touted Warren as a minority hire on their faculty because of her claim of Native American ancestry. Warren's campaign said she never authorized Harvard to make that claim.

The Herald reported "campaign aides ... scrambled but failed to produce documents proving her family lineage," and they eventually said the stories of her Delaware and Cherokee Indian ancestry were passed down through family lore.

According to the Boston Globe, The Harvard Crimson in 1996 quoted a law school spokesman saying the faculty of 71 included one Native American: Warren.

May 2, 2012: Warren tells reporters that being Native American "has been a part of my story, I guess since the day I was born," and she goes on to talk about how her grandfather "had high cheekbones, like all of the Indians do." Those cheekbones were then passed on to her mother, she said.

"I have lived in a family that has talked about Native America, talked about tribes, since I’ve been a little girl," she said, according to the Washington Post. "I still have a picture on my mantle at home, and it’s a picture of my mother’s dad, a picture of my grandfather, and my Aunt Bee has walked by that picture at least a 1000 times, remarked that her father, my Pappa, had high cheekbones, like all of the Indians do, because that’s how she saw it, and your mother got those same great cheekbones, and I didn’t. And she though this was the bad deal she had gotten in life. Being Native American has been a part of my story, I guess since the day I was born, I don’t know any other way to describe it."

She added she listed herself as a minority in past professional directories "because I thought I might be invited to meetings where I might meet more people who had grown up like I had grown up."

May 15, 2012: Politico reports a 1997 Fordham Law Review piece described Warren as Harvard Law School's first "woman of color."

June 2012: A group of Cherokee women critical of Warren's claims say they try to meet with her. She dodges the group and accuses them of being paid by right-wing forces connected to Scott's Brown campaign, Indian Country Today reported.

Twila Barnes, a Cherokee genealogist, says it's an outrageous assertion.

"We are smart Native women who did this on our own, and we are plenty smart enough to figure out that Warren has been less than truthful and now doesn’t want to talk about it. She doesn’t want to give us Native women that credit, yet she calls herself a Native woman. That’s just wrong," she told Indian Country Today.

Sept. 20, 2012: Brown rips Warren during a debate for claiming to be a Native American or person of color. "As you can see, she's not," he says.

Warren says again she relied on family lore, and adds, "This is my family, this is who I am, and it’s not going to change."

Nov. 6, 2012: Warren defeats Brown by more than 7 points to become the first female U.S. Senator ever elected in Massachusetts.

April 22, 2014: Warren releases her memoir A Fighting Chance. She addresses the dust-up over her Native American claims and writes she was stunned by Republican attacks on her.

"Knowing who you are is one thing, and proving who you are is another," she wrote.

May 21, 2014: Warren joins Senate Democrats in signing a letter to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell urging the league to push the Washington Redskins to change their name.

March 21, 2016: As he gets closer to clinching the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, Trump refers to Warren as "the Indian" after she goes on a tweetstorm calling him a "loser" and a threat to the United States.

May 6, 2016: Warren slams Trump for "recycling Scott Brown's hate-filled attacks on my family."

May 14, 2016: Trump refers to Warren as "Pocahontas" in a New York Times interview. He's since tweeted the attack 15 times and repeatedly referred to her by the name in rallies and speeches. Most Americans think of the 1995 Disney movie when they hear the name, but the film sharply diverged from the historical record about her. Native Americans groups have expressed their view that Trump's use of the term is offensive and it's frequently called a slur in media reports.

June 9, 2016: The last Senate Democratic woman to do so, Warren endorses Hillary Clinton for the presidency.

June 28, 2016: The Washington Post Fact Checker declines to offer a rating for Trump's "Pocahontas" slams or accusations Warren lied about her heritage.

"We found that Warren’s relying on family lore rather than official documentation to make an ethnic claim raised serious concerns about Warren’s judgment," reporter Michelle Ye He Lee wrote.

Nov. 27, 2017: Trump is harshly criticized after re-upping the "Pocahontas" jab at a White House event honoring Native American veterans and code talkers.

"We have a representative in Congress who they say was here a long time ago. They call her Pocahontas," he said.

Nov. 30, 2017: Activist Rebecca Nagle pens a scathing op-ed for ThinkProgress, entitled "I am a Cherokee woman. Elizabeth Warren is not," in a rare example of an attack on a Democrat from the left-wing website.

"Warren’s misrepresentation of her heritage has major consequences for Native Americans, who have little visibility not only in politics, but in American culture at large," she wrote. "Warren’s claims of Cherokee identity make her the only representation of Cherokees that the average American will likely ever see."

Feb. 14, 2018: "Let's talk about Pocahontas:" Warren speaks to the National Congress of American Indians and discusses the discrimination Native Americans face and how Trump's "Pocahontas" attacks are hurtful. She also tells her family story again and promises to use political attacks against her as a way to "lift up" Native families.

"I’m here today to make a promise: Every time someone brings up my family’s story, I’m going to use it to lift up the story of your families and your communities," she said.

March 6, 2018: The Berkshire Eagle, a Massachusetts newspaper, calls on Warren in an op-ed to take a DNA test and put the matter to rest for good.

"All the senator needs to do is spit into a tube, wait a few weeks and get her answer. No matter if the test came up negative or positive, it would constitute a plus for Warren and her political hopes," the paper wrote.

March 12, 2018: In Sunday show appearances on CNN's "State of the Union," Fox New's "Fox News Sunday," and NBC's "Meet the Press," Warren retells, using almost the exact same language each time, the story of her how her parents met and the discrimination her part-Native American mother faced.

"It's a part of me, and nobody's going to take that part of me away," she said.

July 5, 2018: At a rally in Montana, Trump imagines a debate with Warren where he tosses her a DNA test kit in the middle of it after she claims Native American heritage.

"And we will very gently take that kit, and slowly toss it, hoping it doesn't injure her arm, and we will say: 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.

Sept. 1, 2018: The Boston Globe publishes a lengthy report concluding Warren's ethnicity claims played no role in her hirings during her legal career.

Oct. 15, 2018: Warren rolls out a slickly produced video taking direct aim at Trump's "Pocahontas" attacks. Warren narrated her upbringing in Oklahoma and how her father fell head over heels in love with his mother at first sight, but his family disapproved because she was part Native American.

The video reiterates Warren's heritage had no bearing on her hiring during her legal teaching career, and it concludes with her getting the results of a DNA test showing she had a "Native American ancestor in her pedigree," between six and 10 generations back. It could make her as little as 1/1,024th Native American.

She wonders in the video if she has been attacked regarding her heritage because some people view politics as a "bloodsport."

However, the backlash is swift, with conservatives mocking the results themselves and liberals fuming that Warren's played into Trump's hands and distracted from the midterm elections less than a month away. Others condemn her for entering the messy world of race science.

Oct. 15, 2018: Cherokee Nation secretary of state Chuck Hoskin, Jr., releases a statement slamming Warren for taking and releasing the test, calling it "useless to determine tribal citizenship."

"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," he continued. "Senator Elizabeth Warren is undermining tribal interests with her continued claims of tribal heritage."

Oct. 21, 2018: Warren says at a Senate debate that she released the test for the benefit of public trust.

Nov. 6, 2018: Warren is easily reelected to a second term in the Senate.

Dec. 6, 2018: The New York Times reports Warren publicly stands by the test, but she also "has privately expressed concern" that she miscalculated the damage she had done to her relationships with Native Americans and activists through releasing it.

Dec. 31, 2018: Warren announces she's formed an exploratory committee to run for president in 2020.

Jan. 5, 2019: An Iowa voter scolds Warren over the DNA test during her swing through the first caucus state, asking her why she gave Trump "more fodder to be a bully." Warren didn't apologize, although she stipulated she was not a "person of color" and said she'd made the decision to "put it all out there" regarding her background after Republican criticisms dating back to 2012.

"I can’t stop Donald Trump from what he’s going to do. I can’t stop him from hurling racial insults. I don’t have the power to do that," she said.

Jan. 13, 2019: Trump mocks Warren's Instagram video where she drank a beer in her kitchen, tweeting if she "did this commercial from Bighorn or Wounded Knee instead of her kitchen, with her husband dressed in full Indian garb, it would have been a smash."

His tweet angered Native Americans given his flippant reference to Wounded Knee, the site of a massacre of American Indians by U.S. military members in 1890.

Feb. 1, 2019: Reports emerge Warren privately apologized to Cherokee Nation's principal chief Bill John Baker for releasing the DNA test.

"I told him I was sorry for furthering confusion about tribal citizenship," Warren said later. "I am also sorry for not being more mindful about this decades ago. We had a good conversation."

Feb. 5, 2019: The Washington Post reports Warren wrote "American Indian" as her race for her State Bar of Texas registration card in 1986. She apologized for identifying herself that way.

"I can’t go back," Warren told the Washington Post. "But I am sorry for furthering confusion on tribal sovereignty and tribal citizenship and harm that resulted."

NBC News reporter Geoff Bennett called it the "textbook definition of cultural appropriation."

Feb. 6, 2019: Warren tells reporters she's apologized for not being more "sensitive" about the distinction between her claims and what constitutes being in a tribe.

She suggests she identified her race as "American Indian" on other forms than the State Bar form from Texas, telling reporters in the Capitol, "During this time period, this is consistent with what I did, because it was based on my understanding from my family's stories."

The Republican National Committee urges the Texas Bar to discipline Warren for falsely representing herself.

Feb. 9, 2019: Warren will officially announce she's running for president of the United States.