9 min readFeb 26, 2020

February 26, 2020

Dear Senator Warren:

As concerned citizens of the Cherokee Nation, United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians, and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, we recognize our responsibility to stand up for our communities: to those we claim and those who claim us.

Senator Warren, as you seek the Democratic nomination for President of the United States, your history of false claims to American Indian identity and the defense of these claims with a highly publicized DNA test continue to dog your political career. For Native Americans, this moment is more than an annoyance; it represents the most public debate about our identity in a generation. In a country where Indigenous people are mostly invisible, what Americans conclude from this debate will impact Native rights for years to come.

Whatever your intentions, your actions have normalized white people claiming to be Native, and perpetuated a dangerous misunderstanding of tribal sovereignty. Your actions do not exist in a vacuum but are part of a long and violent history. The Los Angeles Times recently reported that white members of fake “tribes” have been awarded over $800 million in no-bid federal contracts set aside for minority business owners. Rather than using evidence of Native ancestry, these fake tribes rely solely on family stories and commercial DNA tests. When you still defend yourself by stating you believed what you heard growing up, you set a harmful example for these white people stealing Native identity and resources with stories very similar to your own.

While the average American thinks of Native Americans as a racial category, we are actually political groups. Our rights are based on citizenship in sovereign Nations and those Nations’ treaty relationship to the United States. But that hasn’t stopped opponents to tribes from arguing that laws defending Native rights treat us differently based on race and therefore should be declared unconstitutional. If they win, it could be the end of tribes as we know them. By publicly equating race and biology with Native identity, your DNA test promoted the exact same logic the Right is currently using to try and destroy Native rights.

You have yet to fully address the harm you have caused. While your apologies are a step in the right direction, they have been vague and inadequate. Accountability is not just admitting you made a mistake, but working to correct the harm it caused. A recent collective statement by Cherokee scholars makes clear that any person who publicly identifies as Cherokee has initiated an open discussion about their identity. As a Harvard professor and U.S. Senator, you have the unique opportunity to turn this controversy into a needed learning moment.

As Native community members, academics, activists, scientists, writers, organizers, aunties, uncles, young people, and tribal citizens concerned about the future of Native rights, we call on you to make a clear public statement that includes the following:

  • Like many other white families, your family story of Cherokee and Delaware ancestry is false and it was wrong for you to repeat it as an adult. You have had the genealogical evidence since 2012. Stating you do not qualify for citizenship is not enough; the truth is you and your ancestors are white.
  • Equating Cherokee identity with the results of a DNA test was more than a misstep — it was dangerous. Your supporters and the public need to understand why. We ask that you explain that only tribal affiliation and kinship determine Native identity, and that equating Native identity with race and biology erodes the foundation of Indigenous sovereignty.
  • Claiming Native identity without citizenship, kinship ties, or recognition from Native communities undermines Indigenous self determination. As the most public example of this behavior, you need to clearly state that Native people are the sole authority on who is — and who is not — Native.

Native Americans come from over 574 different nations, each with our own unique histories, languages, cultures, and politics. We do not think with one mind or speak with one voice on this issue — or any other. However, Cherokee citizens are the most impacted not only by your actions but by the growing epidemic of white people claiming to be us. If you truly want to listen and change, then you need to hear all Native voices on this issue — whether or not they serve you.

You have done some good things for Indian Country during your time in political service. You have also done real harm. Right now you have the platform and the opportunity to stand firmly on the side of justice. This is not about politics or your career. This is about the well-being of our nations. The time has come for you to show true leadership and make this right.


(Tribal affiliations listed for identification only)

  1. ᏥᏍᏆ, ᏣᎳᎩ, ᏥᏍᏆ ᏣᎳᎩ/ O-gah-pah/ Wa-zha-Zhe
  2. ᏩᏕ ᎦᎵᏍᎨᏫ Ryan Brandon Mackey, ᏣᎳᎩᎯ ᎠᏰᎵ Cherokee Nation
  3. ᎢᏯ ᏗᎯ Candessa Tehee, Cherokee Nation
  4. ᎧᏂᎦ ᎪᎳᎭ Roy Boney, Jr., Cherokee Nation
  5. Adam Reese, Cherokee Nation
  6. Adrienne Keene, Cherokee Nation
  7. Ahyoka Youngdeer, Cherokee Nation
  8. Alan Harrover, Cherokee Nation
  9. Andrea L. Rogers, Cherokee Nation
  10. Andrea Squires, Cherokee Nation
  11. Angi Harrover, Cherokee Nation
  12. Austin Holt, Cherokee Nation
  13. Benjamin Holt, Cherokee Nation
  14. Betty Smoke, United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians
  15. Bill Davis, Cherokee Nation
  16. Bill Mann, Cherokee Nation
  17. Billie Jo Rich, Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians
  18. Billy Jack Shotpouch, Cherokee Nation
  19. Brandon Caruso, Cherokee Nation
  20. Brandon Morris, Cherokee Nation
  21. Brandon Scott, Cherokee Nation
  22. Brooke Caruso, Cherokee Nation
  23. Brian K. Hudson, Cherokee Nation
  24. Brian Kelly Jackson, Cherokee Nation
  25. Bryan Pollard, Cherokee Nation
  26. Callie Benoit, Cherokee Nation
  27. Carabeth Muskrat Samuels, Cherokee Nation
  28. Cassandra Lynn Cariker, Cherokee Nation
  29. Cassie Snell, Cherokee Nation
  30. Catherine Foreman Gray, Cherokee Nation
  31. Charles Smith, Cherokee Nation
  32. Charmaine Mankiller, Cherokee Nation and Pomo
  33. Cheryl Nichols Brown, Cherokee Nation
  34. Chris Bacon, Cherokee Nation
  35. Christopher Whitmire, Cherokee Nation
  36. Clara McCown, Cherokee Nation
  37. Cole Hogner, Cherokee Nation
  38. Courtney Logan Green Espy, Cherokee Nation
  39. Courtney McCoy, Cherokee Nation
  40. Cynthia Thompson, United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians
  41. Daniel Heath Justice, Cherokee Nation
  42. Daniel S. Ketcher, Cherokee Nation
  43. Daryll Mouse, Cherokee Nation
  44. David Cornsilk, United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians and Cherokee Nation
  45. David Montgomery, Cherokee Nation
  46. Deborah Fritts, Cherokee Nation
  47. Deboraugh Rogers, United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians
  48. Dewey Sunday, Cherokee Nation
  49. Dennis G. Dye, Cherokee Nation
  50. Dillard Pullium, Cherokee Nation
  51. Elissa Lyons, Cherokee Nation
  52. Eva Garroutte, Cherokee Nation
  53. Forrest Stokes, Cherokee Nation
  54. Gayle Samuels, Cherokee Nation
  55. Geneva Brixey, Cherokee Nation
  56. Grant Linihan, Cherokee Nation
  57. Gunnar Hatfield, Cherokee Nation
  58. Harry Styron, Cherokee Nation
  59. Herb Wolf, United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians and Cherokee Nation
  60. Holly Gallagher, Cherokee Nation
  61. Jade Day, Cherokee Nation
  62. James Armontrout, Cherokee Nation
  63. James Gilmartin, Cherokee Nation
  64. Janet Foreman-Green, Cherokee Nation
  65. Janet Kaye Backwater, United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians
  66. Jared Evans, Cherokee Nation
  67. Jason Cook, Cherokee Nation
  68. Jeff Corntassel, Cherokee Nation
  69. Jeffrey Girty, United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians
  70. Jeffery Roaa, Cherokee Nation
  71. Jen Deerinwater, Cherokee Nation
  72. Jeanette Haynes Writer, Cherokee Nation
  73. Jeannie Tidwell, United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians
  74. Jennie Wilson, Cherokee Nation
  75. Jennifer Anderson, Cherokee Nation
  76. Jennifer Barger Johnson, Cherokee Nation
  77. Jennifer Kate Thiessen, Cherokee Nation
  78. Jenny Flippo, Cherokee Nation
  79. Jeremie Fisher, Cherokee Nation
  80. Jeremy Hamilton, Cherokee Nation
  81. Jerid Miller, Cherokee Nation
  82. Jerrid Grimmett, United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians
  83. Jesse Sexton, Cherokee Nation
  84. Jo Ann Tidwell, United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians
  85. JoAnn Foster, Cherokee Nation
  86. Jonathan Radocay, Cherokee Nation
  87. Jonathan E Reynolds, Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians
  88. Joseph M. Pierce, Cherokee Nation
  89. Judith Matthews, Cherokee Nation
  90. Kacey Soliz, Cherokee Nation
  91. Kailey Bennett, Cherokee Nation
  92. Karen Dennis, Cherokee Nation
  93. Katie Jones, Cherokee Nation
  94. Keith Gable, Cherokee Nation
  95. Kevin Sac, Cherokee Nation
  96. Kirby Brown, Cherokee Nation
  97. Kristi Adams, Cherokee Nation
  98. Kristie Bradley, United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians
  99. Kristi Griffin Hansen, Cherokee Nation
  100. Krystal Ann William, Cherokee Nation
  101. Kurt West, Cherokee Nation
  102. Lianna Costantino, Cherokee Nation
  103. Linda Easter, Cherokee Nation
  104. Linda Sacks, Cherokee Nation
  105. Logan Tootle, Cherokee Nation
  106. Mandy Adair, Cherokee Nation
  107. Marcus L. Thompson, Cherokee Nation
  108. Mariah Gary, Cherokee Nation
  109. Mariah Gladstone, Cherokee Nation
  110. Marissa Jane Cundiff, Cherokee Nation
  111. Mark DeMucha, Cherokee Nation
  112. Mark Downing, Cherokee Nation
  113. Mary Aboud, Cherokee Nation
  114. Mary Brown, Cherokee Nation
  115. Mason Hudson, Cherokee Nation
  116. Matthew Anderson, Cherokee Nation
  117. Meghan Feyerabend, Cherokee Nation
  118. Melissa Duggins, Cherokee Nation
  119. Meschelle Linjean, Cherokee Nation
  120. Michael C. Lambert, Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians
  121. Michael Nephew, Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians
  122. Miranda Harris, Cherokee Nation
  123. Mitch McClain, Cherokee Nation
  124. Nataleigh Manz, Cherokee Nation
  125. Natalie Welch, Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians
  126. Nolan Manz, Cherokee Nation
  127. Pam Coodey-York Fox, Cherokee Nation
  128. Dr. Patricia J King, Cherokee Nation
  129. Patricia St. Peter, Cherokee Nation and Shawnee Tribe
  130. Patricia Wilson, Cherokee Nation
  131. Patsy Edgar, Cherokee Nation
  132. Paul Braun, Cherokee Nation
  133. Paul N Sunday, Cherokee Nation
  134. Phoenix Dunn, Cherokee Nation
  135. Rachel Peters, Cherokee Nation
  136. Raymond Pettit, Cherokee Nation and Creek Nation
  137. Rebecca Nagle, Cherokee Nation
  138. Regina Pickard, Cherokee Nation
  139. Regina Pritchett, Cherokee Nation
  140. Rhonda Lee Earp, Cherokee Nation
  141. Richard D. Teel, Cherokee Nation
  142. Robert Crossno, Cherokee Nation
  143. Robert Easter, Cherokee Nation
  144. Robin McLain Smith, Cherokee Nation
  145. Roldan Sack, United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians
  146. Ron Collett, Cherokee Nation
  147. Ryley Bunch, Cherokee Nation
  148. Sandee Tidwell Lovado, United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians
  149. Sasha Walker Hudson, Cherokee Nation
  150. Shanda Attika Secondi, Cherokee Nation
  151. Shane Roberson, Cherokee Nation
  152. Shauna Amezcua, Cherokee Nation
  153. Shea Vassar, Cherokee Nation
  154. Sheila Holmes, Cherokee Nation
  155. Shellie Shankle, Cherokee Nation
  156. Sherri Kay Hattori, Cherokee Nation
  157. Sherrie McElwee, Cherokee Nation
  158. Shilow Campbell, Cherokee Nation
  159. Sky Babela Wildcat, Cherokee Nation
  160. Snow Matthews, Cherokee Nation and Delaware Tribe of Indians
  161. Ali Sacks, United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians
  162. Taylor Keen, Cherokee Nation
  163. Thomasenia Johnson, Cherokee Nation
  164. Tracey M. Keith, Cherokee Nation
  165. Tricia Wickliffe, Cherokee Nation
  166. Tsianina Neel, Cherokee Nation
  167. Twila Barnes, Cherokee Nation
  168. Valerie Leann Kagan, Cherokee Nation
  169. Verna Bates, Cherokee Nation
  170. Vicki Creighton, Cherokee Nation
  171. Victoria M. O’Keefe, Cherokee Nation
  172. Virginia Drywater-Whitekiller, United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians
  173. Wayne Divelbiss, Cherokee Nation
  174. William Curtis, Cherokee Nation
  175. William Lossiah-Bratt, Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians
  176. Wynona Burwell, Cherokee Nation
  177. Zac Russell, Cherokee Nation

The undersigned Native citizens stand in solidarity with our Cherokee relatives, friends, and colleagues who face a unique epidemic of non-Natives claiming their identity. We recognize that while the problem most often targets Cherokee identity, the public misunderstanding of what it means to be Native American threatens all of our rights. We hope that this long controversy will end and Senator Warren will do the right thing and set the record straight that Indigenous self-determination comes before before unsubstantiated family stories and DNA testing.

  1. Ali Watson, Oglala Lakota
  2. Amanda Blackhorse, Diné (Navajo) Nation
  3. Amber Starks, Muscogee Creek Citizen
  4. Ashley Fairbanks, White Earth Anishinaabe
  5. Ashley McCray, Absentee Shawnee Tribe/ Oglala Lakota
  6. Audra Simpson, Kahnawà:ke Mohawk
  7. Candi Brings Plenty, Oglala Lakota Sioux Tribe
  8. Carole Lindstrom, Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibwe
  9. Charitie Ropati, Native Village of Kongiganak
  10. Christine Brown, Delaware Tribe of Indians
  11. Cole DeLaune, Kiowa Tribe
  12. Cori Taber, Muscogee (Creek) Nation
  13. Debbie Reese, Nambé Owingeh
  14. DeLesslin George-Warren, Catawba Nation
  15. Desi Rodriguez-Lonebear, Northern Cheyenne Nation
  16. Dina Gilio-Whitaker, Colville Confederated Tribes
  17. Emmy Scott, Spokane and Winnebego Nations
  18. Erica Tremblay, Seneca-Cayuga Nation
  19. Erin Thomas Anhalt, Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma
  20. Eryn Wise, Jicarilla Apache/Laguna Pueblo
  21. Eva Coyote, Delaware Tribe of Indians
  22. Iakowi:he’ne’ Oakes, Mohawk, Snipe Clan, Rotinoshonni
  23. J. Kēhaulani Kauanui, Kanaka Maoli
  24. Jacqueline Keeler, Diné/Dakota
  25. Jean M. O’Brien, White Earth Ojibwe
  26. Jeffrey Hogrefe, Absentee Shawnee Tribe and Oglala Lakota
  27. Jen Hubbard, Muscogee (Creek) Nation
  28. Jennifer Billie Chadwick, Seminole Tribe of Florida
  29. Jennina Rose Gorman/Katsistioasta , St. Reggis Mohawk Tribe
  30. Jessica Lambert, Choctaw Nation
  31. Jodi Byrd, Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma
  32. Jodi Voice Yellowfish, Creek Nation
  33. John Little, Standing Rock Sioux Tribe
  34. Johnnie Jae, Otoe-Missouria/Choctaw
  35. Jordan Marie Daniel, Kul Wičasa Oyaté, federally known as the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe
  36. Joseph Clift, Cowlitz Indian Tribe
  37. Jukari Davis, Navajo Nation
  38. Julia Coyote, Delaware Tribe of Indians
  39. Kaitlin Curtice, Potawatomi Nation
  40. Kat Redding, Powhatan (Pamunkey) and Choctaw/Chickasaw
  41. Kawennakenre Shirley Meloche, Mohawk of Kahnawake Canada
  42. Keely Toledo, Navajo Nation
  43. Kim TallBear, Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate
  44. Krystal Tsosie, Diné (Navajo) Nation
  45. Larissa Nez, Navajo Nation
  46. Lindsey Naegeli, Ottawa Tribe of Oklahoma
  47. Lucas Brown Eyes, Oglala Lakota
  48. Madeline Fernandez, Delaware Tribe of Indians
  49. Mahayla Perryman-Matthews, Seneca-Cayuga Nation
  50. Mariah Greenwood Adair, Chickasaw Nation
  51. Marla Striped Face-Collins, Standing Rock Sioux Tribe
  52. Martie Simmons, Ho-Chunk Nation of Wisconsin
  53. Mary Coyote, Delaware Tribe of Indians
  54. Megan Red Shirt-Shaw, Oglala Lakota
  55. Michelle Cook, Navajo Nation
  56. Natalie Diaz, Gila River (Akimel O’odham)
  57. Nicholas Galanin, Tlingit/Unangax̂
  58. Nick Courtney, Makah
  59. Nick Estes, Lower Brule Sioux Tribe
  60. Renee’ Frerichs, Qawalangin Tribe of Unalaska
  61. Sandy Grande, Quechua
  62. Shannon Speed, Chickasaw Nation
  63. Sheldon Beach, Chickasaw Nation
  64. Dr. Sophia Marjanovic, Fort Peck Ogala Lakota/Santa Ysabel Ipai
  65. Summer Wesley, Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma
  66. Tanaya Winder, Duckwater Shoshone
  67. Tara Moses, Seminole Nation of Oklahoma
  68. Taté Walker, Mniconjou Lakota & citizen of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe
  69. Tiffany Midge, Standing Rock Sioux Tribe
  70. Trudie Jackson, Navajo Nation
  71. Twyla Baker, Three Affiliated Tribes (Mandan, Hidatsa, & Arikara Nation)
  72. Valerie Lambert, Choctaw Nation
  73. Virginia Mouse, Osage/Quapaw
  74. Yvonne Perryman-Matthews, Seneca-Cayuga Nation

The letter was organized by four citizens of the Cherokee Nation: Joseph M. Pierce, Daniel Heath Justice, Rebecca Nagle, and Twila Barnes. Media inquiries can be sent to the following email address: ewarrenisnotcherokee@gmail.com.

If you are a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians, or the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, and would like to sign this letter, please fill out the following form: https://forms.gle/Vz2ofHxs2rEfdzZq6

“Constitution of the Cherokee Nation formed by a convention of delegates from the several districts at New Echota, July 1827.” Newberry Library, Chicago. VAULT Ayer 251 .C211 1828.