Opinion: The Elizabeth Warren-DNA Test Controversy is Absurd


Illustration by Jilian Bunderson.

For months President Trump had publicly ridiculed Warren’s claims of Native American Ancestry and referred to her as “Pocahontas.” In October, Warren produced a political advertisement as a response, with the DNA expert in the commercial stating that Warren “absolutely has a Native American in her [DNA] pedigree.”

Immediately following this commercial, Native American tribes from across the country had a massive backlash against Senator Warren – calling her approach “tone-deaf” and the politicalization of Native American heritage.

The entire debate is ludicrous. I find that nearly every side of this argument is in the wrong.

Donald Trump’s fixation on Elizabeth Warren’s heritage is absolutely childish; it’s just another attempt of his to personally attack his political opponents. This is obviously to be expected from the president though: these petty comments of his are no different from the claim he made that Ted Cruz’s father killed John F. Kennedy or the nickname he gave Hillary Clinton, “Crooked Hillary.”

As unprofessional, irresponsible and even racist as these statements were, Warren also lost my respect in this political controversy. Of course it’s horrid to have one’s family attacked in the political battlefield, but her response was a blatant attempt to gain political points not to defend her privacy.

The commercial she released was a message sent directly to the Democratic Party more so than to anyone else. The advertisement was the embodiment of her saying “Look at me – I can fire right back at Trump. I’m tough as nails, and my facts and logic will shut his antagonistic insults right up.” Her motivation to release this commercial is even more evident, considering her announcement to run as a presidential candidate in 2020. While her goal was to look like a competent yet quick-witted politician, securing her support for the Democratic presidential candidacy, she went from looking reputable to looking petty. Her decision to reply to Trump only gave him more ammunition – the last tweet Trump posted, mocking Warren, was uploaded on Jan. 3.

The most bizarre player in this spectacle has been the Native American community itself. Little was heard from tribes such as the Cherokee Nation, when Trump publicly belittled Warren’s claims; however, upon the release of Warren’s DNA test, Native American criticism became very evident.

Despite Trump’s arguably racist nickname for Warren, the public outcry was actually directed at Senator Warren. The Cherokee Nation released a tweet on the DNA test, condemning that it “dishonor[ed] legitimate tribal governments and their citizens, whose ancestors are well documented and whose heritage is proven.” The problem with this complaint is that from the very beginning, Warren made it clear that she claimed no citizenship in the Native American tribes, only that she had Native American ancestors.

A more sensible criticism has been that Native American culture and heritage has been appropriated and politicized for this meaningless debate. This concern is more agreeable, but at this point it should be acknowledged that absolutely anything can and will be politicized for the sake of public support. Obviously, Native American heritage is no exception.

Words can hardly articulate the absurdity of this situation. Everybody is in the wrong, and perhaps that’ll be the new tone of politics heading into 2019.