The authenticity of Elizabeth Warren’s Native American heritage and whether she touted it to get ahead are the focus of a deepening spat between Warren and Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.).
Brown’s campaign says law faculty directories listing Warren as a minority, combined with efforts by Harvard Law to tout her as part of a diverse faculty, raise major questions about her credibility.
“I believe I was recruited by Harvard because I was a good teacher,” Warren told reporters in Massachusetts. She answered affirmatively when asked if she is “part Indian.”
But while Warren grew up in Oklahoma, where many residents have members of their family tree who were Native Americans, she has been unable to independently substantiate her claim to the heritage.
Christopher Child, a prominent genealogist, did some digging into Warren’s ancestry and determined that her great-great-great-grandmother was listed as Cherokee on a marriage certificate in Oklahoma. Child told the Boston Herald that the relation made Warren one-thirty-second Native American.
Although Warren's campaign acknowledged that she listed her heritage in faculty directories more than 15 years ago, Warren said she couldn’t recall ever bringing it up when applying for a job.
Warren’s campaign circulated statements from top professors from the four universities where she taught law — including Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania — arguing emphatically that she was hired on her merits and praising her gifts in the classroom.
"The simple fact is that Elizabeth is proud of her heritage,” said Warren spokeswoman Alethea Harney. “It's clear that Scott Brown is desperate to find anything to change the subject from his votes to protect Wall Street and big oil companies."
Brown has worked to portray the kerfuffle as prompted by media scrutiny of Warren, staying out of the fray as much as possible — at least in public.
“You guys have asked a lot of questions that have raised questions not only for you, but for anybody who’s reading and listening to your stories,” Brown told NBC affiliate WHDH. “She should answer those questions — pretty simple.”
But Brown’s campaign manager, Jim Barnett, has called on Warren to apologize for what he called “Harvard’s diversity sham.”
It’s a one-two punch for Brown’s team: It can knock Warren for allegedly giving herself a leg up by claiming Native American heritage, and at the same time deploy its favorite line of attack against her: that she has spent too long in the ivory tower and can't relate to everyday citizens.
"For years, Harvard has claimed special minority status for Professor Elizabeth Warren as a member of a Native American tribe and their first minority hire,” Barnett said in a statement, calling it “an insult to all Americans who have suffered real discrimination and mistreatment.”
But it was Warren’s campaign manager, Mindy Myers, who brought the spat to a whole other level by suggesting that sexism was to play in Brown’s criticism.
“Once again, the qualifications and ability of a woman are being called into question by Scott Brown, who did the same thing with the Supreme Court nomination of Elena Kagan,” Myers said. “It’s outrageous.”