February 11, 2019


Why Elizabeth Warren Abandoned Her Native-American Story: This is what happens when identity politics runs up against actual law. (ROBERT TRACINSKI  FEBRUARY 11, 2019, The Bulwark)

The answer is contained in the wording of her apology.

"I can't go back," Warren said in an interview with the Washington Post. "But I am sorry for furthering confusion on tribal sovereignty and tribal citizenship and harm that resulted."

This is what happens when modern feel-good identity politics posturing comes up against an ethnic identification that has a specific legal identity.

In claiming that she was Native American, Warren had been playing by the rules of academia, in which ethnicity (and a great deal else) is subjectively self-identified and you can more or less claim to be whatever you want. Those standards usually apply in the way racial and ethnic identification is treated in the culture. Rachel Dolezal--excuse me, Nkechi Amare Diallo--can claim she's black and there's no legal structure that can dictate otherwise. Not unless everyone wants to return to the "one drop rule." (Though some racial set-asides have been pushing us in that direction.)

But Native-American status does not work according to those rules, because it's not merely an ethnic identification but a special legal status that dates back before the founding of the United States of America.

Native American tribes are not immigrant groups. Legally, native tribes have the recognized status of sovereign nations which were incorporated within the United States by treaty as they were surrounded, integrated, and sometimes defeated in war by the expansion of American settlements. This special status has historically conferred certain legal disadvantages--members of Native American tribes were not covered by birthright citizenship and were not necessarily citizens of the United States until the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924--as well as certain legal advantages, such as exemption from some taxes and from regulations on tobacco and gambling.

Because of that special legal status, Native American tribes are recognized by state and federal governments and have carefully maintained membership rolls. You can't just say, "I have high cheekbones," or refer to stories your grandparents told you, or take a DNA test.

Ultimately, this defined legal status is what scuppered Warren. 

Posted by at February 11, 2019 12:01 AM