For years, Elizabeth Warren has dealt with criticism for claiming Native American ancestry, leading Donald Trump to derisively refer to her as “Pocahontas” and eventually leading Senator Warren to obtain a public DNA test to back up her claims. The test revealed that while Warren had evidence of Native American ancestry, it also indicated that the percentage of that ancestry was minuscule and that her ethnicity was overwhelmingly Caucasian. Critics have accused Warren of using her ancestry claims to seek an advantaged minority status professionally and politically. Those accusations were further irritated when evidence emerged that Warren had indicated her race as American Indian on a registration with the State Bar of Texas in 1986.
Eventually in 2019, Warren issued a public apology for claiming a Native American heritage despite the evidence that her ethnicity was overwhelmingly Caucasian and that she had no existing or historical political, family, or residential affiliation with any Native American tribes.
The letter from the Cherokee Nation highlights this distinction and calls on Warren to publicly revise her statements. Native American tribal nations are sovereign governments that are recognized by the United States government as “domestic dependent nations.” As such, they have their own governments and their own legal determinations of membership. Self-identification as a Native American or submitting proof of a certain percentage of Native American ancestry does not automatically grant membership into a tribal government. So even if Elizabeth Warren had a higher percentage of Cherokee ancestry, because she had no historical affiliation with the tribe, never enrolled for membership, never lived on tribal lands, and had no living relatives that are members, any claims of American Indian identity are misleading and impose on the sovereignty of tribal nations.