Warren Speaks Out on Heritage Accusations

After weeks of speculation, Elizabeth Warren released an official statement Thursday confirming that she had claimed Native American heritage to both Harvard University and the University of Pennsylvania. Warren remained adamant, however, that her descent did not have an impact on job offers, as those who hired her had no knowledge of her background when they offered her the positions.

The allegations against the Democratic candidate for Massachusetts Senate were originally brought to light last month. Massachusetts Republican Party Chairman Robert A. Maginn Jr. expressed his concern in an open letter to President Drew Faust on May 6.

Maginn and other news sources perpetuated rumors that Harvard Law School used Warren’s claimed 1/32nd Cherokee ancestry as a way to boost their lagging diversity numbers in the 1990’s when Warren was first tenured.

Following Maginn’s accusation, Warren requested that her staff look into the documentation, but regardless of their findings, emphasized pride in her Cherokee background.

Although she had reported herself as “white” in the 1980s to the University of Texas, Warren first claimed Native American heritage in a national directory of law school personnel in the 1986-87 school year. According to the Boston Globe, Warren only learned that Harvard had subsequently counted her as a minority member of the faculty when she read the accusations in the Boston Herald last month.

Documents found by the Globe indicate that Harvard began reporting a female professor of Native American descent the first year Warren was on staff as a visiting professor. Harvard no longer reported such a minority on their staff during the years Warren taught at Penn, but returned to doing so upon her return to Harvard as a tenured position in Harvard’s faculty.

In Thursday’s statement, Warren said that most of her claims to Native American heritage came from stories during her youth from grandparents, aunts, uncles, and her mother. “As a kid, I never thought to ask them for documentation—what kid would?” she wrote

However, without genealogical documentation of her exact heritage, Warren does not meet the Department of Labor standards to be counted as a Native American minority. Those standards state that a person must have both ancestral documentation and affiliation with a tribe or community—neither of which Warren possesses.

Ultimately, Warren and the campaign dismissed the claims as a misuse of the public’s time during this election season. “The people of Massachusetts are concerned about their jobs, the future for their kids, and the security of retirement,” Warren wrote, “It’s past time we moved on to the important issues facing middle class families in Massachusetts.”

—Staff writer Amy Q. Friedman can be reached at afriedman@college.harvard.edu.

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