May 14, 2012

Warren has no firsthand evidence

Warren's Cherokee Claim Based On Family Newsletter; No Marriage License Application To Be Found

By Michael Patrick LeahyOn May 2, the Boston Herald reported that the New England Historic Genealogical Society had changed its story. Mr. Child was no longer the spokesman. In place of genealogist Chris Child was Society Spokesman Tom Champoux, who now called the source document “a[n] electronic transcript of a[n] 1894 marriage application,” without describing the source of that electronic transcript.“Being Native American has been part of my story I guess since the day I was born,” said Warren [today.] …

Warren’s statements come as genealogists at the New England Historic Genealogical Society were unable to back up earlier accounts that her great great great grandmother is Cherokee. While Warren’s great great great grandmother, named O.C. Sarah Smith, is listed on a electronic transcript of a 1894 marriage application as Cherokee, the genealogists are unable to find the actual record or a photograhic copy of it, Society spokesman Tom Champoux said. A copy of the marriage license itself has been located, but unlike the application, it does not list Smith’s ethnicity.
But 24 hours later on May 3, and a mere 48 hours after the Warren campaign triumphantly repeated Chris Child’s incorrect description of the source document, CNN reported that an unnamed spokesman for the New England Historic Genealogical Society dramatically walked back the reliability of the source document even further. Instead of a “marriage certificate” or “her son’s 1894 marriage license,” as Chris Child reported on May 1, or “an electronic transcript of [a]n 1894 marriage application,” the source for the claim that William J. Crawford stated that his mother was a Cherokee was, instead, a 2006 family newsletter where “OC Sarah Smith is said to be described as a Cherokee in an 1894 marriage license application.” Incredibly, the unnamed spokesman for the New England Historic Genealogical Society admitted that "the original [marriage license] application cannot be located" (emphasis added).

Technically, Mr. Champoux’s statement the previous day was consistent with this new statement from an unnamed source at the New England Historic Genealogical Society. A 2006 family newsletter could well have included a report of “a[n] electronic transcript of [a]n 1894 marriage application,” but Mr. Champoux’s May 2 statement clearly gave the impression that the electronic transcript in question was copied from an original document dated in 1894, which appears not to be the source at all.

Instead of an actual official vital statistic document, the evidence that William J. Crawford said his mother was a Cherokee was now said to be a marriage license application (from a period in time and place where no marriage license applications were either created or stored) that was referenced as family lore in a 2006 family newsletter.
Census listings aren't reliable

Leahy apparently thinks he's debunked Warren's claims. But no, he hasn't.

Elizabeth Warren’s Genealogical ChallengeLeahy goes on to say that even if O.C. Sarah Smith was Cherokee, she was only half Cherokee, making Warren, 1/64, not 1/32 as most reports have recently stated.

Leahy doesn’t stop there. He says “it is more likely that O.C. Sarah Smith had no Cherokee heritage. Census records that listed O.C. Sarah Smith Crawford (her married name) as a resident of Tennessee in 1830, 1840, and 1860 classify her as white, not Indian.”

That’s not surprising though, considering that a reference to Indian on the Census form didn’t start until 1880. The 1850 Census gave options for white, black or mulatto.

“The U.S. Census records starting with 1880 included a reference to Indians, but may or may not be accurate. Earlier records sometimes regard Indians or mixed bloods as MU (mulatto) and again are not necessarily accurate,” said Myra Vanderpool Gormley, a certified genealogist specializing in Cherokee and Native American history. “There are various Indian rolls from about 1885 that identify Indians by tribe and name. Most of them pertain to Indians living on reservations and not in the general population.”

It wasn’t the only time American Indians were lumped into a group they didn’t belong in either. Walter Ashby Plecker, registrar of the Virginia Bureau of Vital Statistics from 1912-1946, was instrumental in crafting the state’s Racial Integrity Act of 1924. He argued that there were no full-blooded Indians left in Virginia, so everyone in the state should only be able to claim one of two racial backgrounds: Caucasian or “negro.”

And as David Treuer pointed out in his opinion piece in The Washington Post, many Indians have identified as whites to have access to more opportunities. “From the mid-19th century, the beginning of the reservation period, up through the early 20th century, regardless of how people identified themselves, being classified by the U.S. government as an American Indian automatically curtailed one’s rights,” he said.
Even someone who knows little about genealogy like me can debunk Leahy's debunking. If you go back five generations, any of her 32 ancestors could've been Cherokee or part Cherokee. As ICTMN notes, some states didn't collect racial data. And some ancestors might've found it advantageous to list themselves as white.

You'd have to go back several more generations--perhaps all the way back to Europe--to rule out Warren's having Cherokee ancestors. No one's done that yet, so her claims remain unsubstantiated, not disproved.

The role of tribal citizenship

Even if OC Sarah Smith was a Cherokee who identified herself as white, that's not the whole story either. ICTMN continues:So it would seem that Warren’s Cherokee ancestry is based on family stories, which oral history does carry some weight in genealogical circles. Many people do have stories about Native American ancestors, but could Warren become an enrolled Cherokee citizen based on them? No, she could not.

According to Lenzy Krehbiel-Burton, deputy executive director for Cherokee Nation Communications, even if that marriage license said O.C. Sarah Smith was Cherokee, it alone would be insufficient. Warren would have to have an ancestor on the Dawes Rolls and then show state-certified documentation, like birth or death certificates, that she is related to that person, to be eligible for citizenship. Though Krehbiel-Burton admits, people are missed who should be citizens.

“Not every Cherokee was on the Dawes Rolls, so there are people who have legitimate Cherokee genealogy but are ineligible for citizenship,” she told ICTMN. “It isn’t a perfect system, but it’s the best we’ve got to by.”
Columnist Suzan Shown Harjo elaborates on this issue:

What’s the Deal With Elizabeth Warren, Cherokee?

By Suzan Shown HarjoWarren’s defenders and detractors have blamed, smeared and minimized Cherokees, Cherokee Nation and Native Americans generally, with sophomoric language usually heard only at sports events featuring “Indian” stereotypes. Those who point out that she is the same amount of Cherokee blood as the Cherokee Nation chief are off point and beside the point. Why? Let’s review. Tribal citizenry is political, not racial, and Cherokee Nation uses a family (descendant) standard, not a blood quantum requirement.

When people legitimately claim particular Native nations, they are saying they are tribal citizens of one and eligible for citizenship and/or culturally tied to another. When people claim particular tribes and aren’t tribal citizens, they are promoting a false impression of tribal citizenship (and tribal experience and sanctioning), even if they never use the word citizen. People are Native American because Native nations they say they are; not because of the magic wand of self-declaration.

Native Americans are not the same as, for example, Irish-Americans, Japanese-Americans or Kenyan-Americans. Our nationalities are in our Native nations, which are more like Ireland, Japan or Kenya, with a political nation-to-nation relationship with the U.S. We are equivalent to the relatives of the hyphenated Americans in their old countries—more like the Irish, Japanese or Kenyans—still in our countries, only surrounded by the U.S. on our original lands.
Comment:  I love the phrase "the magic wand of self-declaration." Harjo repudiates those who say Warren is Native because she says she is. No, Warren isn't.


Let's recap:

Warren's claim of Native heritage is extremely tenuous. She may or may not be 1/32, 1/64, or less Cherokee. That's such a trivial amount it isn't worth mentioning except as a biographical footnote.

Should Warren have listed herself as "Native" in some professional directories? No, because she isn't Native. She was wrong to do that.

But with all those family stories and pictures, Warren may have thought she was 1/16 or more Native. It sounds like she exaggerated her Native heritage in her own mind, then compounded the problem by listing herself as Native. That's unfortunate but understandable.

I'd call her directory listings more of an innocent mistake than an attempt to deceive. Almost every politician has committed worse transgressions than these. Consider George W. Bush's Vietnam-dodging, DUI arrests, and abortion, for example.

Warren's employers touted her as a minority in their faculty reports. Should they have done that? No. Employers should document such claims before airing them publicly. They shouldn't take the word of employees who benefit from being considered minorities.

Warren says she didn't tell potential employers she was Native. Did they learn about her "Native" claim from the directories? Could be, although that's unclear. Warren may be fibbing about what she told them.

At the very least, she was naive to think the directory listings had no bearing on her employment. People don't use directories to find new friends. They use them to verify someone's work background.

In short, someone benefited from Warren's exaggerated claim of being Native. If not her, then the institutions who hired her. That shouldn't affect Warren's Senate campaign, but it's still not right.

For more on the subject, see Warren Didn't Claim Native Status and Warren's Cherokee Claim Unsubstantiated?


Anonymous said...

Yeah, um, it never occurred to them that Indians might be rightly paranoid about censuses. Seriously, you can see an old Hollerith machine in the Holocaust Museum; the ones they use today are over nine thousand times faster.

dmarks said...

More like "wrongly paranoid". There's no excuse for being so grossly uninformed.

dmarks said...

And it has branched into something else as well:

"Did Elizabeth Warren Plagiarize Her 'Pow Wow Chow' Recipes?"

click here

Anonymous said...

More on the American front, Executive Order 9906 comes to mind as a famous abuse of the Census. There's also a history of coercive sterilizing Indian women. So yeah.

Anyway, the whole issue, I don't think this would be a big deal if not for the fact that she was going to be on the committee to regulate the banks. They replaced her with someone more industry-friendly (For the complete details, check out this month's Rolling Stone.), but there's nothing they'd love to do more than discredit her in some small way.

dmarks said...

"More on the American front, Executive Order 9906 comes to mind as a famous abuse of the Census. There's also a history of coercive sterilizing Indian women. So yeah."

And the vast majority of abuses of Natives were non-census related. To single out the Census Bureau is ignorant and paranoid.

As for regulating banks, remember this is the same President who approved the massive failure and waste of the TARP and other handouts to the banks.

Rob said...

As for regulating banks, you mean Obama "approved" the legislation passed and signed into law by Bush? If that's an indictment of Obama, it's more of an indictment of Bush.

The Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) is a program of the United States government to purchase assets and equity from financial institutions to strengthen its financial sector that was signed into law by U.S. President George W. Bush on October 3, 2008. It was a component of the government's measures in 2008 to address the subprime mortgage crisis.