Since the tone-deaf, blundering decision to produce the results of a DNA test in an effort to prove her Native American ancestry, Elizabeth Warren has avoided directly publicly acknowledging her largest misstep in an otherwise sharp campaign, until today.
“Like anyone’s who’s being honest with themselves, I know that I have made mistakes. I am sorry for harm I have caused. I have listened, and I have learned a lot,” Warren said at a presidential forum on Native American issues in Iowa.
Still, plenty of Native voices said they felt erased by her vague apology about “mistakes” and that her words didn’t go far enough:
Warren made a similar apology privately, speaking to Cherokee Nation—the tribe she claimed a link to—back in February. As my former colleague Nick Martin put it at the time, the DNA test fundamentally rejected the idea that Native American identity derives from the tribe, not from the “underlying decision by white society to measure Native peoples by their DNA and race.” From Nick’s post then:
If there is one item you remember, let it be this: I am not Native because of my blood; I am Native because I belong to a tribe, and despite what courts like the one in Texas say, a tribe is not a group of people gathered together because they are of the same race. It is a collective, a nation of citizens bonded by ancestral and historical commonalities, the likes of which no other group has on this land. On this, there is no budging. For anyone to decry this, or declare it moot, is to walk into the same trap Warren did—that of denying Native people the sovereignty and autonomy to declare, for themselves, who is Native and who is not.
As the New York Times’ Astead Herndon pointed out, Warren got off relatively easy after the scandal, as her ambitious rhetoric on the trail started winning over voters:
To her credit, Warren has coupled her slow, halting reckoning with her appropriation of the Native identity with substantive policy goals. Today’s apology came at a Native American presidential forum named for long-time activist Frank LaMere, where she outlined her commitment to Native issues.
On Friday, Warren released an exhaustive plan on “fulfilling our obligations to tribal nations and indigenous people,” which called for substantial federal funding to improve housing on Native lands, returning tribal sovereignty with respect to law enforcement on tribal lands, and $800 million to tribal governments and organizations for health care priorities.
Warren now has an apology to go along with that plan. It’s now every Native voters’ decision—and theirs alone—to decide whether or not to accept it.