Voters Question Warren's Embrace Of Minority Heritage

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Massachusetts Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate Elizabeth Warren (AP)
Massachusetts Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate Elizabeth Warren (AP)

Elizabeth Warren, a Harvard law professor and likely Democratic challenger to Republican Sen. Scott Brown, has been defending herself against allegations that she used her Native American heritage to advance her law career.

Warren says she did not know that Harvard touted her as a member of a minority group in the 1990s, when the law school came under criticism for being too white.

But Warren says that when she was growing up in Oklahoma, her family always told her she’s part Cherokee.

"I am very proud of my heritage," Warren said. "These are my family stories. This is what my brothers and I were told by my mom and my dad, my mammaw and my pappaw. This is our lives. And I'm very proud of it."

Warren was also identified as a minority in professional legal directories for years. So just how much of a minority is she?

Chris Child has been digging through the Census, birth and death records of Warren’s family. The genealogist eventually unearthed a document stating that Warren’s great-great-great-grandmother was Native American. The document is from the woman’s son.

"In 1894, on his application for a marriage license, he listed his father as Jonathan Houston Crawford and his mother as O.C. Sarah Smith, Cherokee Indian."

Child said it would take more research to confirm his finding. Some bloggers have been calling on Warren to take a DNA test.

Child said documenting Native American ancestry is a common request at the New England Historic Genealogical Society, where he works.

"Sometimes we’re able to find some evidence. More oftentimes we’re actually not able to find any evidence," Childs said. "In this particular case, at least we’re dealing with someone who in 1894 who claimed a Cherokee connection, versus just a lot of people today. So that’s one bit of promising information."

It suggests that Warren is 1/32nd Native American.

Warren Supporter Paul Venecko is disappointed that Warren claimed native heritage at all. The Jamaica Plain man is also American Indian — part Narragansett.

"I’m a quarter, and it’s so far recessed behind me that I really can’t reference it for any particular reason, and I just feel like Elizabeth Warren probably has even less reason," Venecko said.

Venecko had been planning to vote for Warren. Now he’s less certain.

But for Jeff Richards, of Cambridge, it’s not a big deal.

"What does it matter? Aren’t we all somehow related?" Richards said. "What do they think she’s doing — she’s trying to garner the native vote?"

Some critics are insinuating she may have used her minority status to advance in academia. Warren’s said she doesn’t recall ever talking about her native heritage when applying for faculty jobs, including her current one.

"I believe I was recruited at Harvard because I'm a good teacher," Warren said.

But the questions aren’t going away.

"Well, I know the media’s been asking a lot of questions," Sen. Brown said. "I’ve been following it just like you have. So, if there are questions, she should answer them."

Meanwhile, Warren’s campaign has been calling Brown a hypocrite. Brown has been a vehement opponent of President Obama’s health care overhaul but admitted Monday that his 23-year-old daughter is saving money after college by staying on his congressional health insurance plan — which was made possible by a provision of the health care law he opposes.

This article was originally published on May 01, 2012.

This program aired on May 1, 2012.

Curt Nickisch Business & Technology Reporter
Curt Nickisch was formerly WBUR's business and technology reporter.



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