Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) on Wednesday morning made an impromptu appearance at the National Congress of American Indians, in which she finally addressed her personal heritage claims and fired back at President Trump for his repeated derogatory references to her as “Pocahontas.”
“My mother’s family was part Native American. And my daddy’s parents were bitterly opposed to their relationship. So, in 1932, when Mother was 19 and daddy had just turned 20, they eloped,” Warren explained of her Cherokee heritage in the speech, as first reported by The Boston Globe.
“My parents struggled,” she continued, according to prepared remarks. “They sacrificed. They paid off medical debts for years. My daddy ended up as a janitor. They fought and they drank, but more than anything, they hung together. 63 years—that’s how long they were married. When my mother died, a part of my daddy slipped away too.”
She also recounted her father’s death in heartbreaking detail: “Two years later, I held his hand while cancer took him. The last thing he said was, ‘It’s time for me to be with your mother.’ And he smiled."
And she pivoted to the president’s attacks on her heritage: “They’re gone, but the love they shared, the struggles they endured, the family they built, and the story they lived will always be a part of me. And no one—not even the president of the United States—will ever take that part of me away.”
The longstanding conservative mockery of her Native-American heritage claims dates back to her 2012 Senate run, when her opponent Scott Brown alleged that she had lied about her family to advance her own career.
Warren said around that time that her family had always told her in stories that she was part Cherokee. In the ’90s, Harvard Law School listed Warren as a member of its minority group—something which Warren said she was not aware of in 2012. Additionally, Harvard Law professor Charles Fried, a former U.S. Solicitor General under President Reagan, was on the appointing committee that recommended Warren's hire. He said at the time that her heritage never came up and that she was recruited for the job. As CNN noted, Warren did claim she was a minority in a directory for the Association of American Law Schools but had not done that in other student applications and during her time teaching at the University of Texas.
As such, she has maintained that her heritage claims have never advanced her career.
Often considered a potential 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, Warren also promised Wednesday to advocate on behalf of the Native-American community and railed against the president for his remarks, including the time Trump went off-script to make a “Pocahontas” crack during a somber event honoring Native-American veterans.
“Now we have a president who can’t make it through a ceremony honoring Native American war heroes without reducing Native history, Native culture, Native people to the butt of a joke,” Warren said addressing that November 2017 incident.
“The joke, I guess, is supposed to be on me,” she remarked.
Warren also acknowledged the lack of non-anecdotal evidence for her claimed heritage.
“I get why some people think there’s hay to be made here,” the senator said. “You won’t find my family members on any rolls, and I’m not enrolled in a tribe.”
“And I want to make something clear. I respect that distinction. I understand that tribal membership is determined by tribes—and only by tribes. I never used my family tree to get a break or get ahead. I never used it to advance my career.”