Editor’s Note: Simon Moya-Smith is an Oglala Lakota and Chicano journalist. He is the author of the forthcoming book, “Your Spirit Animal is a Jackass.” The views expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author. View more opinion articles on CNN.
Elizabeth Warren released the results of a DNA test that suggests she has distant Native American heritage – but that doesn’t change anything for me, and other Natives like me, for that matter. My question still stands: Elizabeth Warren, where the hell have you been?
Seriously, let’s not waste any time here, because I have a lot of questions.
Why didn’t she say anything about the literal attacks on human rights and treaty violations during our fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota in 2016? While water protectors were being shot with water from cannons in freezing temperatures, while dogs were set on Natives protecting their ancestors’ graves, and while Natives and allies were locked into “dog kennels,” Warren’s silence was deafening. While she eventually weighed in with a statement on Facebook, that was rightly and widely dismissed as too little, too late.
Why, up until only earlier this year, hasn’t Warren said anything about police brutality in Indian country? Natives are more likely to die at the hands of police then any other demographic, yet for years, her voice – her allegedly Native voice – was nowhere to be found.
Why, up until only earlier this year, hasn’t she said anything about sexual abuse in Indian country? Native women are 2.5 times more likely to be sexually assaulted than women of any other group, and yet not a peep from Warren about the attack on the people she claims to be a part of.
What makes it even more perplexing is that she was one of the point people for efforts by women in Congress to address harassment on Capitol Hill and co-sponsored proposed legislation to force companies to disclose harassment settlements – yet only this year, speaking to the National Congress of American Indians, has she mentioned this alarming statistic.
Warren claims now to have Native American heritage. And her claim to having such heritage – versus a claim of actually being Native – feels sneaky to me. Where has she been on these many issues that plague our communities? Although the results from her DNA test are new, her identity claims here aren’t. Why has she ignored us for so long? Why only now come around? This latest disclosure lets her save face without having responsibilities to the Native community she’s claiming to share heritage with. Furthermore, name me one nation or tribe that claims her. None do.
It’s obvious to anyone with eyes in their sockets or brains in their heads: because Warren needs our stamp of approval and our vote as she contemplates a potential presidential run. That’s why.
Frankly, it should vex anyone that only when a particular person has a desired objective, they finally come knocking and act like they were there all along. It’s like that one person who claims to be a part of your crew but somehow goes missing every time they’re called upon to lace up and show up.
I’m a democratic socialist, not a Democrat or a Republican, so this has nothing to do with party politics. This has to do, yet again, with what many of us in the community call the convenient Indian problem – that is, people who claim to be Native only when it serves their personal agenda but are nowhere to be found otherwise. For example, the Washington NFL team fan (I’m not going to use the racial slur) who is caught wearing a headdress, claims he’s a quarter Cherokee, and that’s why, he says, he can wear it without being criticized as racist.
No, these cretins in faux feather crowns must be criticized. Also, a DNA test doesn’t make you Native and neither does family lore, but it does breed a parade of people who will use both for selfish gain.
And now with the proliferation of the booming biotechnology business around family ancestry and DNA testing, convenient Indians are everywhere, and they all want to know what their spirit animal is.
Don’t get me wrong. I share in Senator Warren’s deep disdain for American corporate greed and President Donald Trump’s glaring racism. In fact, by way of policy and politics, there are few things the Massachusetts senator and I don’t see eye-to-eye on, but I can’t ignore the fact the timing of her announcement is just a little too convenient.
For years, when I was the culture editor at Indian Country Today Media Network, we requested interviews with Warren, but not once did she accept our numerous invitations for comment or explanation regarding her alleged ancestry. She simply ignored us.
I get it. I’m a journalist. Politicians give us the cold shoulder whenever scandal breaks, but you’d think someone who claims to be Native wouldn’t avoid and overlook Natives at large for so long, right? You’d think they’d be the first to say something about what afflicts your people.
Not only has she failed to be the first, she has routinely failed to say anything at all.
And although, right now, I’d take Warren in a hot minute over a petulant President Trump, who goes off the rails at 2 a.m. on Twitter about absolutely anyone who doesn’t fawn at his feet, the revered senator has a lot to apologize for – or at least explain.
When we needed her, she didn’t lace up. She didn’t show up.
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It’s not enough to claim to be Native. You must also be there for your people, be a part of the community, and not only when it’s convenient or when you want something – like the presidency.