Monday, March 12, 2018

Elizabeth Warren doesn't need to take a DNA test. Here's why...

I can't believe I'm going to open this can of worms, but someone needs to do so after the repeated cries for Elizabeth Warren, US Senator from Massachusetts, to take a DNA test to prove or disprove her claim of Native American ancestry.

Before we pry this can open, first and foremost, I'm a citizen of the Cherokee Nation and I will always defend tribal sovereignty. My concern over Warren's claim that she is a non-enrolled Native American is best explained with the words of anthropologist Michael Lambert, a citizen of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. He described Cherokee identity politics as a "battle over sovereignty":
"One of the terrains on which this is being fought is that of how we define "Indian." The current effort to define Indian as a racial/cultural group is an effort to extinguish Indian sovereignty. The only way for Indian nations to defend and expand their sovereignty is to make exclusive claim to defining who is Indian and what it means to be Indian...

What does this have to do with non-enrolled Cherokees identifying as such? I see the basis of claims to Indian identity to be political acts. This is, and has been, a battle over sovereignty. One who bases their claim to Indian identity on any basis other than sovereignty is not taking a pro-Indian position."
To be very clear, despite everything Warren said and promised in her speech to the National Congress of American Indians and despite all her new efforts to support Indian country through legislation, she is not taking a pro-Indian position because she continues to claim she's Native American while admitting she is not enrolled. 

Those who continue to insist Warren take a DNA test to "settle the issue" are not taking a pro-Indian position either. DNA doesn't define who is or is not an Indian. Only tribes can do that. To say anything else, including DNA, determines who is or is not Indian is a political attack on tribal sovereignty. The three Cherokee Indian nations who have government to government relationships with the United States have said Warren is not Cherokee. That should have been the end of it. Unfortunately it wasn't.

The genealogy of Warren has been done and shows no indication of Cherokee, Delaware, or any other Indian nation ancestry. The genealogy along with the fact no legitimate Indian nation claims her should have been the end of it. Unfortunately it wasn't.

Now we have no choice but to address the areas of family lore and DNA. This is where it gets ugly and I'm not happy that I feel I need to write about it. I will not get into a discussion of DNA as a whole. Warren's family lore is very specific and her claim hinges on one person as a racially 'full blooded Cherokee.' That person and their origins will be the sole focus of my discussion of DNA.

I'm a genealogist who adheres to the Standards for Sound Genealogical Practices adopted by the Board for the Certification of Professional Genealogists. The research our team did documents Warren's lineage back to Preston Crawford, a white man who was born in Tennessee and died in Missouri. At this time, no credible documentation has been found that conclusively lists the names of the parents of Preston Crawford. 

Sadly, Warren doesn't care about documentation or facts. She's based her entire claim to being Cherokee or Native American on a family story that says Preston Crawford's parents were Jonathon Crawford and "Sarah" Neoma (Oma) Smith. This same story continues by declaring Neoma Smith as the daughter of Wyatt Smith and sister of William Bracken Smith. 

Because this purported lineage is strictly based on a family story found in a newsletter written by an amateur genealogist, I want to make it clear that we are discussing lore, not a lineage supported by documentation. Normally I'd ignore the lore but because Warren is dead set on continuing this claim, further examination of this family story is necessary.

According to the lore, Neoma Smith was a (racially) full blood Cherokee Indian. Warren and her supporters appear to believe this (racially) full blood ancestor allows Warren to claim Native American heritage and that it gave her the right to claim minority status as a Harvard Law professor.

Let's give Warren and her supporters the benefit of the doubt on this lineage. Let's allow them to continue to claim Warren's documented ancestor, Preston Crawford, was the son of a Jonathon Crawford and Neoma Smith, the daughter of Wyatt Smith.

Now that we've gotten that out of the way, let's drop the demand for Warren to take a DNA test. I explained above why I don't support it, but there's another reason the demand should be dropped. We don't need it to learn about Warren's alleged Cherokee ancestor.

The Y-DNA from Wyatt Smith's male descendants has already been tested by at least one of Warren's purported Smith male cousins, a descendant of William Bracken Smith.

William Bracken Smith was the son of Wyatt Smith and alleged brother of Neoma Smith Crawford. The Y-DNA test traces the direct descent of males only--son to father to father's father to father's father's father and so on. Apparently Y-DNA changes slowly over time so the same DNA is passed from one male to the next with few mutations (differences) occurring.

The only people that can produce a "racially" full blood Indian child are two other "racially" full blood Indians. If Neoma were "racially" a full blood Indian as the family lore says, then Wyatt Smith would have had to be a "racially" full blood Indian as well. He wasn't. The results of the Y-DNA test taken by Smith's descendant indicated Wyatt Smith's haplogroup was R-M269, the dominant branch of R1b in Western Europe.

I'm no DNA expert but it defies logic to believe a man with origins in Western Europe fathered a "racially" full blood Indian daughter. The Y-DNA of Wyatt Smith, Warren's purported ancestor, combined with the facts no legitimate Indian nation claims Warren and that her genealogy indicates no Indian ancestry should be the end of it. I fear it won't be.

So America, there you have it--a DNA test that gives information on the origins of one of Warren's purported "full blood" Cherokee ancestors. Take the information and do with it what you will. As I said above, it's a can of worms I'd rather have left sealed, but enough is enough. If Warren wants to continue with this family story that her alleged Smith ancestors were Cherokee, then she must take everything that goes along with it, including the DNA results. Wyatt Smith's paternal origins are from Western Europe. He was not a "racially" full blood Indian. Therefore he could not have fathered a "racially" full blood Indian child.

In closing, I'd like to reiterate that DNA does not, in any way, determine who is or is not considered Native American. There is no DNA test that can determine that. Indian nations determine citizenship just like the United States determines who is American. Americans would never dream of requesting someone get a DNA test to prove they are American. Instead, they might ask to see one's proof or documentation of citizenship in the United States. We in Indian Country understand that. We wish Americans could give our Indian nations the same respect. We are not a race of people that can simply take a DNA test and show we are citizens of one of the various tribes throughout the US. We are citizens of nations and the way we prove it is the exact same way Americans prove they are citizens of the U.S. We provide documentation.
Those are my thoughts for today.
Thanks for reading.

For more information on why calls for a DNA test to prove/disprove one is Native American are dangerous to tribal sovereignty, please read the book, "Native American DNA: Tribal Belonging and the False Promise of Genetic Science" by Dr. Kim Tallbear.

The Lambert quote is from "Becoming Indian: The Struggle over Cherokee Identity in the Twenty-first Century" by Circe Sturm.

copyright 2018, Polly's Granddaughter - TCB

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