As a proud Native American and member of the Cherokee Nation, I took noticed of Senator and presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren’s claims of Native heritage and citizenship. She recently took a DNA test to prove her native American ancestry in response to backlash from President Donald Trump.
I am glad this issue has been brought into discussion and has allowed more visibility of Native people in the media and news. However, this topic has become politicized in the media, which takes away the attention from other pressing issues within Native American communities. Ideally, if and when Native American issues are raised in mainstream media, our communities would hope it would be about important matters affecting Native communities on reservations such as lack of health care, education, the cycles of poverty and how our culture is misportrayed. With the Warren conflict, the issue is about a white women’s mistake and politicizing Native race and culture.
Within the Native American community, the issue brings up these questions: What does it really mean to be Native American? How can we quantify or “prove” our heritage? What is the definition and difference between having Native ancestry versus tribal citizenship? To answer these questions, I looked to fellow Native American members in Stanford’s undergraduate community as well as my mother, Valerie Red-Horse, to get some insight.