Elizabeth Warren is not a citizen of the Cherokee Nation.
Elizabeth Warren is not enrolled in the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.
And Elizabeth Warren is not one of the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee.
Nor could she become one, even if she wanted to.
Despite a nearly three-week flap over her claim of "being Native American," the progressive consumer advocate has been unable to point to evidence of Native heritage except for a unsubstantiated third-hand report that she might be 1/32 Cherokee. Even if it could be proven, it wouldn't qualify her to be a member of a tribe: Contrary to assertions in outlets ranging from The New York Times to Mother Jones that having 1/32 Cherokee ancestry is "sufficient for tribal citizenship," "Indian enough" for "the Cherokee Nation," and "not a deal-breaker," Warren would not be eligible to become a member of any of the three federally recognized Cherokee tribes based on the evidence so far surfaced by independent genealogists about her ancestry.
"These are my family stories," Warren has said. "This is what my brothers and I were told by my mom and my dad, my mammaw and my pappaw." But so far she and her campaign have been unable to establish that her family lore about being part Native American is anything more than one of the most widely shared family myths known to American genealogical researchers; such myths are especially prevalent in Warren's home state of Oklahoma, which has the highest percentage of Native Americans in the nation and where the Cherokee are the largest minority group.
"There's a running joke in Indian country: If you meet somebody who you wouldn't necessarily think they're Native, but they say they're Native, chances are they'll tell you they're Cherokee," said Lenzy Krehbiel-Burton, a spokesperson for the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma, which counts more than 300,000 citizens and is the largest Cherokee tribe.
Warren, now running as a Democrat to unseat Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown, has been embroiled in the controversy since reports surfaced that she described herself as a minority in a law school directory and was touted as a Native American faculty member while tenured at Harvard Law School in the mid-1990s. Warren has described herself as having Cherokee and Delaware Indian ancestry. Brown's campaign has seized on the story to raise questions about whether Warren misled Harvard or sought to use distant Native American ties for professional gain, and hammered on the propriety of a blonde, blue-eyed white woman describing herself as a minority. But the biggest question raised during the fracas is the one no one has been able to answer: Does she have Native American ancestry at all?
Warren has doubled down on her description of her background and dismissed suggestions she was ever an affirmative-action hire as preposterous. "I'm proud of my Native American heritage," she said Monday in an appearance on CNN. "I'm proud of my family."
Her inability to name any specific Native American ancestor has kept the story alive, though, as pundits left and right have argued the case. Supporters touted her as part Cherokee after genealogist Christopher Child of the New England Historic Genealogical Society said he had found a marriage certificate that described her great-great-great-grandmother, who was born in the late 18th century, as a Cherokee. But that story fell apart once people looked at it more closely. The society, it turned out, was referencing a quote by an amateur genealogist in the March 2006 Buracker & Boraker Family History Research Newsletters about an application for a marriage certificate:
Lynda Smith said, "When Neoma's son William J. Crawford married his second wife, Mary LONG, in Oklahoma, he stated on his marriage application that his parents were Johnathan Houston Crawford and O. C. Sarah Smith and that his mother was Cherokee Indian."