An Apology to the Cherokee Nation

The Story:

On January 31, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D – MA), a candidate for President, called the principal chief of the Cherokee Nation to apologize for taking a DNA test last year in re her recollection of family stories about her own possible Cherokee ancestry.


One does not of course become a Cherokee by virtue of a blood test [or more traditional genealogical research.] Tribal membership today dates from a Census known as the Dawes Roll created in the period 1898-1907. Senator Warren unambiguously is not a member of the tribe and has not claimed to be.

In July 2018, President Trump offered the Senator $1 million to her favorite charity if she would dare take a DNA test and prove “you’re an Indian.” In October, Warren accepted the dare and took such a test. It showed the likelihood of a Native American ancestor, but also indicated that this could have been as many as ten generations ago. Trump has not followed through on the offered charitable donation.

Native Americans have since expressed dissatisfaction that Warren took and publicized such test results. They believe she helped compound an already existing confusion over bloodlines on the one hand and actual citizenship/sovereignty on the other. Thus, last week’s apology.

The Thing to Know:

The apology may mend fences as Warren seeks to move forward within a crowded field for the Democratic Party’s primaries for President. A spokeswoman for the tribe has said that it is “encouraged by this dialogue” and by Warren’s acknowledgement that she is “not a Cherokee Nation citizen or a citizen of any tribal nation.”

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