Wednesday, February 6, 2019

The Shared Elizabeth Warren Native Heritige Uncertainty

Senator Elizabeth Warren, candidate for the 2020 Presidential race, has a perplexing identity problem.  A native of Oklahoma, where Native American heritage abounds, has believed she has Cherokee heritage.  This belief was given to her by her family based on oral history.  I can relate and hope people can understand that family stories, often undocumented, impact most all of us.

My own family, specifically on my maternal side, has a somewhat detailed oral history.  I first heard the story from both my mother and her dad.  Stan Worthen, native of Wyoming and nearly lifelong resident of Utah, shared a detailed history.  He claimed his grandmother was a "full blooded Cherokee Indian squaw".  These were his words.  His own appearance, an olive complexion my mother shared and his small, wiry frame and high cheek bones suggested plausibility of this story.  He described his English immigrant ancestors as having met her as a young woman who migrated to the Wyoming area via the trail of tears, hooking up with Mormon migrants along the way.

I have long forgotten her name, but he indicated that both state and Mormon Church records ignored those of native heritage because of their "lesser" status.  His people never converted to the LDS church so they were further excluded from these records. But this heritage was much discussed with pride within the family, especially because of the Cherokee reputation for "high culture"; meaning, having or accepting many of the cultural attributes of Anglo settlers; the creation of villages, a non-transient agricultural economy and later, a written language.

Very late in my own life, I explored my genetic roots via Ancestry.Com and their DNA testing.  In a home filled with art depicting Native and Cherokee images and a fair amount of "Indian" jewelry and crafts, I was astounded at the DNA report.  No Native blood at all.  Lots of English ancestors and blood, but no trace of American Indian heritage.  My family story and our discussions were much like Senator Warren's family story.  Frustrating for me too that no one on my maternal side were still with us to better understand this disconnect from scientific evidence.  I gather than Senator Warren has the same verification dilemma.

I've not decided if she is my candidate, but she seems like a trustworthy leader and I am hoping people will cut her some slack on this issue.  She's never claimed tribal participation and has apologized to Cherokee Nation leadership.  Let's judge her on her overall character, accomplishments and brilliant policy recommendations to make our lives better.