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Don’t (#247)

Elizabeth Warren, Presidential Candidate, has claimed to be Cherokee for years.

After Trump questioned her claim in about the most racist way possible, Warren took a DNA test which shows a possibility of Indigenous ancestry 8-10 generations ago.

The Cherokee Nation was very unhappy with Warren’s claim and her DNA test.

White people everywhere said, “I don’t get it?”

So here’s a super abbreviated primer for my fellow white people, culled from recent real-life conversations, Facebook battles, and Twitter discussions.

The U.S.A. has long wanted to get rid of Native Americans, either by outright genocide, assimilation, or by destroying their environment. In keeping with the assimilation theme, the Bureau of Indian Affairs set up some nice little perks to go with blood quantum levels. If you could show you were 1/4 American Indian in the 1940-50s, you got a check from the government.

Nice, right? The catch is that at a certain point, the U.S. could say, “Oh, your blood quantum level is so low that we no longer recognize you as American Indian.” The longterm goal, of course, was that the U.S. could eventually stop recognizing any tribes and take their lands and resources yet again.

Most tribes figured this out and challenged the blood quantum level qualification, using other criteria to determine tribal status. The majority of Native American tribes maintain that ONLY the tribe can determine tribal members. To date, most Native tribes even have a moratorium on genetics research, lest that eventually be used to exploit them. Which is why Warren’s DNA test could only compare her DNA to the DNA of Indigenous people in South America.

So, yeah, it was both impossible and insensitive for Warren to insist upon using a DNA test to “prove” she’s Cherokee.

In fact, it’s offensive to a lot of Native Americans for Warren to claim to be Cherokee at all.

“But whyyyyyyyy,” my fellow white people whine. “When I say I’m German, the Germans don’t get all bent out of shape!” (They didn’t used to. With the rise of Trump and the attendant resurgence of white supremacy in the U.S., German offense at Americans calling themselves German would be utterly understandable.)

Here’s the one of the great many things white America can’t seem to grasp. To many Native Americans, saying “I’m Cherokee,” means you are a member of the tribe. You are using a Cherokee word to claim lineage AND a specific cultural heritage with the use of their tribal name.

Warren could not prove lineage. If she could, she would already be a member of the Cherokee Nation and we’d only be having half this discussion, because the Cherokee Nation of Okalahoma allows enrollment based on descent. (Not every Native Nation uses that as their main criteria – they are not a monolith.) The Cherokee Nation keeps excellent genealogical records. Those records prove Warren has no Cherokee ancestors.

Warren said she was Cherokee based on nothing more than false familial lore. Despite Cherokee women telling Warren she was being obtuse and offensive years ago, Warren insisted on using her own, white American criteria of DNA evidence to claim Cherokee lineage rather than respect the Cherokee Nation’s sovereignty and their definition of lineage.

Warren recently apologized for the DNA test, first privately to the Cherokee Nation and then generally when her State Bar of Texas registration card surfaced, which showed her claiming to be American Indian:

But suppose Warren had been able to prove lineage? Would it be okay for Warren to shout, “See? I AM Cherokee!?” As Chuck Hoskins, Jr, Cherokee Nation Secretary of State said, “While we appreciate the affinity many Americans have for the family lore of native ancestry, stating, ‘My grandmother was Cherokee’…in no way confers the full rights and responsibilities of tribal citizenship.”

Despite this rebuke, plenty of white women offensively Instgram themselves daily with war bonnets or other regalia. (Don’t believe me? Search #warbonnet and cringe for yourself.)  Some will defend their picture by saying they’re part “Native American,” though there is no universal Native American culture and tribal regalia varies greatly among the 573 different tribes in United States.

Other white women will say, “Well, my great-great-whatever-grandmother was Ojibwe, so I’m Ojibwe, so it’s not cultural appropriation so that’s cool.”


It’s the height of white privilege. What this white woman is really saying is, “I don’t care what the actual tribal members of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe say it means to call yourself Ojibwe. I don’t care if the tribe says it’s wrong or offensive or painful for the very white people who persecuted them to now claim to be from their tribe because of a maybe ancestor. This is MY definition, and I’m going to keep using it.”

It’s like white people who insist that they should be allowed to use the n-word because they personally don’t find it offensive. They are willfully ignoring the history of kidnapping, genocide, slavery, Jim Crow lynching, and racism that are forever linked with the n-word when a white person uses it.

So don’t do it, my fellow white people. 

Don’t be the person who claims to be Cherokee from Oklahoma without understanding what it means to be a member of the Cherokee Nation or the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians.

Don’t tout your Native American ancestry if you’ve been raised white for generations.

Most importantly, don’t reference your maybe Indigenous ancestor if you do not have a deep and visceral knowledge both the heritage and traumas that are carved into the genes of actual Native American tribes.

Just don’t.

If you’re interested in learning more about Native American perspectives, here are some women to follow on Twitter. Many have websites. Just don’t rudely demand that they educate you, okay? Listen and learn.

Kim Tall Bear

Dr. Adrienne Keene

Dr. Debbie Reese

Rebecca Nagle

Jacqueline Keeler

Polly Granddaughter

If you want more in-depth reading on the problems with Warren’s claims & DNA testing, check out their syllabus/ reading list.

To Coddle, or Not to Coddle? (#246)

I’ve never been fragile. Born into a large family of semi-feral children, I learned to guard my food and my stuffed animals early. I mowed lawns, lifted weights, and fought dirty with siblings when necessary (also when unnecessary).

Sympathy and coddling were in short supply. Like most young women, I powered through feeling like crap when I had cramps, headaches, and nausea.

The “I can endure misery” mindset was helpful when I was pregnant. I continued working out and playing volleyball, since the endorphins helped me not puke all the time. I still walked my rescue dogs for miles. My only concession to pregnancy was lighter weights and no squats.

This astounded people.

Continue reading To Coddle, or Not to Coddle? (#246)

Andy’s Guide to Gift-Giving (and Marriage) #245

Once upon a time, my future husband gave me thoughtful, expensive presents. On one of our early dates, we rode an elephant together (before we knew better, sorry, wildlife defenders everywhere). Elephants had been my favorite animal as a child, in part because “elephants never forget.” Not being forgotten is the childhood fantasy of every middle child in an enormous family who has been left at school, ballet, or the Trailways bus station.

Andy didn’t forget why I loved elephants or our date. Andy got me a gold and emerald elephant pendant for Christmas that year.

Andy learned I liked old-fashioned, unique jewelry. He found an Edwardian ring design and worked with a jeweler to have it modified and cast in platinum for an engagement ring. 

I said yes. Eventually

Continue reading Andy’s Guide to Gift-Giving (and Marriage) #245

Amen, Girlfriend (#244)

When I was seven months pregnant, my Chinese-American father-in-law insisted on coming to visit. Jay insulted me personally and women in general. His ceaseless efforts at home improvement culminated in disasters and emergency home improvements for my husband and me. Jay refused to desist. I lost my temper and yelled some mean things at him (all the meaner for being true).

A good hostess never yells at a guest, no matter how trying. A smart wife sucks it up and stays on speaking terms with her in-laws, no matter how insane they are. And a decent mom-to-be will put the needs of her future child ahead of her desire to throttle her maddening father-in-law until he drops the screwdriver of doom forever.

Continue reading Amen, Girlfriend (#244)

New Year’s & All That Noise (#243)

A few years ago, a thirty-something couple moved into the house behind us. They had two girls under age five and another baby on the way. When the mom told me that her husband once danced and sang on a table, I assumed she was indulging in nostalgia rather than foreshadowing.

Until festive lights went up in the backyard. This was followed by a disco ball, loud music, and the chanting of “Drink, drink, drink!”

Another neighbor called and asked where the frat party was.

“At the newborn’s house,” I replied.

Continue reading New Year’s & All That Noise (#243)

The Dogs of Christmas (#242)

When I was a little girl, my mother organized caroling and a party on Christmas Eve. We sang our way around the block in Washington D.C. We were met with universal delight. Those were magical times

My Ex-Stepmother carried on the tradition in the suburbs of D.C. and then New England.

Until I dated a guy from rural Tennessee over the holiday season, I never thought some people might find caroling…odd.

Continue reading The Dogs of Christmas (#242)

Snapped (#241)

My ex-debutante mother trained my siblings and me to be good hosts. She also trained us to be good guests. We brought bread and butter gifts. We found something to compliment in every home. We ate whatever food was placed in front of us without complaint and insisted on helping with the dishes. 

We were groomed to make social occasions run smoothly, with nary a scene. White Anglo Saxon Protestants (i.e., WASPs) with social pretensions avoid conflict and HATE scenes. They are a symbol of ugliness and failure. 

And so common.

Continue reading Snapped (#241)

Houseguest vs. Hostess (#240)

A woman’s home is her castle. Until her father-in-law shows up.

I’m white woman raised by a former debutante. My racist Southern grandma ran a charm school. As liberated as my mother tried to be, she was still stuck on Rules of Acceptable Female Behavior.

One such rule was “Be an Exemplary Hostess.” When friends came over, they got first pick of snacks, toys, and sleeping bags. They chose the games we played.

When my parents entertained, we children took coats. We handed around hors d’ oeuvres. We got adults drinks. If there was a shortage of chairs, we offered our seats to adults and took the floor. We cleared the table and did the dishes, too. My mother took immense pride in the praise guests heaped upon her for her adorable little helpers.

She shared their praise with us. And since we were many, and desperate for attention, we got a little warped.

Continue reading Houseguest vs. Hostess (#240)

Sex, Sorrow, and Costco (#239)

I was raised by a liberated woman and a man who believed his daughters should mow lawns, change tires, and have the same curfew as their older brother.

My sisters and I crushed in academics no less than my brother. We were better singers, better dancers, and better athletes. Also more popular. (Sorry, Big Bro!)

NASA came to my schools seeking women astronauts. They told us women had better reflexes than men, handled G-forces better than men, and coped better in close quarters better than men and please could we girls consider being astronauts?

I never understood why a person should be more valued because they were born with a penis. I mean, having a penis means you’re kind of fragile and likely to die earlier than a woman.

Continue reading Sex, Sorrow, and Costco (#239)

They’re Coming (#238)

When my white family reunites, we plan. A year in advance, a cascade of emails about wedding beach houses, Christmas in New Hampshire, or running a 10K at Thanksgiving begin.

And then there’s my husband’s Chinese-American family. Near the end of October, Andy said, “So we haven’t seen my parents in a while.”

“Yes,” I agreed, smiling. And then stopped smiling. “Wait. Are you saying to want to go see them? Before your brother’s wedding next summer?” (Yes, Denny was finally getting married! But that’s another post.)

“Well…” Continue reading They’re Coming (#238)