The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

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Elizabeth Warren is Another Politician Using Indigenous People

Elizabeth+Warren+giving+a+speech+during+the+Unity+Rally+in+Cambridge%2C+MA.%0A
Flickr Commons/ElizabethforMA
Elizabeth Warren giving a speech during the Unity Rally in Cambridge, MA.

Last week, Elizabeth Warren announced, following a DNA test, that she has a percentage of Native American ancestry.

The test showed that Warren has Native American ancestry dating back 6-10 generations. The fallout of this raises a controversial understanding on the complexities of what Native American indigenous heritage means, as well as claiming it as a heritage.

What seemed like an innocent attempt to claim herself as part of this indigenous community has now become a controversy, one that threatens her potential run during the upcoming Presidential election.

Many Americans are confused as to what the major issue is with claiming indigenous heritage from one of the basic box websites such 23andme and Ancestry.com. However, it is a socially accepted principle today, that ethnicity is about genetics.

The reality is that indigenous citizenship or belonging to a tribe is far more complicated than just genetics. Genetics or bloodlines are often not enough to be apart of the community, rather, tribal citizenship often resembles the process of obtaining citizenship in another country. Each nation has their own procedures to accept a newcomer into the community. Just because indigenous heritage can be traced via DNA, it does not mean they are part of that heritage when compared to the connection with the community and identity of the indigenous people.

Many tribes require documentation and meetings to confirm people as a part of the tribe. While Senator Warren can claim to have indigenous blood through this DNA test, she is not truly indigenous. What’s worse is that her attempt to co-op indigenous culture becomes part of a long history of natives being used as political cannon fodder, only to be abused and ignored after elections. Several tribes have since condemned Warren’s actions and called for her to cease the claim.

There is a point to be made regarding an unmistakable consistent need to belong to a community that many people seem to crave. By this, I am referring to how people can shift to be an ally of people of color and defending themselves by stating a percentage of heritage. In Warren’s case, fractions that small are meaningless. There’s nothing wrong with being Caucasian and supporting people of color, so long as there aren’t any attempts to claim heritage for personal benefit. By this principle, being a descendant of indigenous people does not equate to the person officially being considered indigenous. Recognition is vital.

For many, heritage is a large part of identity, yet there is a lack of education that details why what Senator Warren did was tasteless and disrespectful. Her actions raise ethical questions and undermine how important tribal citizenship is. As a member of the indigenous community in Honduras, this political act by Warren is a slap in the face to indigenous people like myself. We are not clothing that can be put on and taken off at a whim. These DNA tests often allow people to assume identity as being only blood or genetics, as in the case with Warren. However it must be restated that something as important as cultural identity cannot be determined by simple DNA. There’s a more intricate process to truly being accepted as indigenous.

 

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