What's an American Indian? Warren case stirs query
Native Americans have a high rate of intermarriage with other groups. Many are not identifiable by appearance, which has made it possible for almost anyone to assume a Native persona. That seems to have been the case with US Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren.
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LeValdo said there are many fakers: "A lot of people find some sort of romanticism in being Native American. They think of the warrior type, or the Pocahontas stereotype. They're just taken with the idea of it."Skip to next paragraph
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"But to a lot of our people who live this life, it's tough," she continued. "We deal with a lot of things. A lot of us feel like if you're going to claim it, you have to do something. Don't just use it when you want to use it."
Warren has been adamant that she did not seek any advantage from Native American heritage. Records show that she declined to apply for admission to Rutgers Law School under a minority student program and identified her race as "white" on an employment record at the University of Texas, where she worked from 1983 to 1987.
She left Texas for the University of Pennsylvania Law School, where a report on minority faculty listed Warren's name. Her ethnicity became a campaign issue when the Boston Herald reported that Harvard Law, which hired Warren in 1995, listed her as a minority when the school was under pressure to diversify the faculty.
Besides potentially influencing hiring or promotion, Indian identity can have other economic advantages. Some tribes share millions in casino earnings; health care, scholarships and housing are available to some tribal members.
Native Americans have a high rate of intermarriage with other groups. Many are not identifiable by appearance, which has made it possible for almost anyone to assume a Native persona – for various purposes.
Some of the American colonists who boarded British ships during the Boston Tea Party wore Mohawk costumes. During New York anti-rent conflicts of the 1840s, white people assumed Indian garb and pidgin "Injinspeak" as they harassed patrician estates, according to the book "Playing Indian," by Philip J. Deloria.
The actor Iron Eyes Cody starred as an Indian in films from the 1930s to the '70s, and championed many Native causes. He claimed to be Cherokee, but near the end of his life was revealed to be the son of Italian immigrants. In 1976, former Ku Klux Klansman Asa Earl Carter published a fabricated and best-selling memoir, "The Education of Little Tree," under the name Forrest Carter.
"When that kind of fraud takes place it damages our people," said Wilkins, the professor.
"You have people on the outside claiming this and that to draw attention to themselves," he said, "and then people on the outside may wonder, do Native people really know who they are?"