Elizabeth Warren says her parents had to elope because she was part Cherokee and part Delaware.
This entire situation is worse than I had thought. pic.twitter.com/E87HDB3Qqo
— 🌹 (@AlytaDeLeon) September 28, 2019
Here’s a 2012 posting at Legal Insurrection casting doubt on Senator Warren’s “My parents had to elope because my mother was an Indian” theory. The local newspaper article on their wedding portrays her mother as a socially popular daughter of a prominent local businessman.
On the other hand, lots of families have lots of complicated stories. (My go-to illustration of this is that Gerald Ford — the exemplar of a normal All-American man of broad but not overwhelming talents, athletic, legal, and political, — was named Lesley King until he was 3.)
On the other, other hand, most Americans today assume from the black analogy that back in 1932 there must have been some sort of One Drop Rule against intermarriage with anybody with any Indian ancestry. But in 1932, the Vice President of the United States, Charles Curtis, was famously part Indian. Similarly, one of the first two Senators Oklahoma sent to Washington in 1907, Robert L. Owen, was famously part Cherokee and had won a $5 million judgement against the U.S. government for the Trail of Tears.
So, there was, in general, very little social detriment to being a tiny bit American Indian in the U.S. in the first half of the 20th Century. On the other hand, perhaps Senator Warren’s father’s parents had old-fashioned views dating back to the Indian Wars? (Anti-Indianism had largely died out by 1932 and been replaced by Indianphilia, but hatred of Indians was common in the 19th Century among Westerners who’d had to deal with them. For example, Mark Twain was fairly pro-black but he absolutely hated Indians.)
Or perhaps “Indian” was a euphemism for a more direct problem in her mother’s family, such as too great of a taste for firewater?
Let me offer a different line of speculation: as a law professor, Professor Warren was intimately acquainted with the endless arguments over affirmative action, such as the Supreme Court’s famous Bakke decision of 1978. So her statements that she was just identifying as an American Indian so she might be invited to join a social club of Indians are silly. Affirmative action was a huge issue in the law at the time she identified herself officially on forms as American Indian.
What’s more possible is that as somebody who started out as a Republican, not changing her registration to Democrat until 1996, that she was, in effect, trolling the affirmative action system by pointing out the absurdity in the system that even she could claim to be worthy of affirmative action.
Lots of people on the right say that you should just check off Native American on your forms because you were born here, right, and how are they going to prove you are not American Indian? What’s the minimum cutoff level of ancestry needed? Exacerbate the Contradictions!
Warren was ideologically affiliated with Richard Posner’s “Law and Economics” movement up until she researched consumer bankruptcies in the mid-1980s, so hostility toward affirmative action would not have been implausible.