Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren on Tuesday made an unannounced appearance at a lunch on the sidelines of a major Native American conference in Washington. Her remarks came amid continued scrutiny of the Massachusetts senator’s past claims to Native ancestry.
According to details provided by a campaign aide after Warren’s appearance at the National Indian Women Honor Luncheon, she introduced Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head Aquinnah chairwoman Cheryl Andrews-Maltais, a tribal leader and former senior advisor to the assistant secretary of Indian Affairs during the Obama administration. The senator was introduced by New Mexico Rep. Deb Haaland, one of the first two Native American women elected to Congress last year.
Warren did not address or make any mention of the controversies surrounding her past claims to Native American heritage, an aide told CNN, including an attempt to prove her ancestry with a DNA test last year, which has been a source of anger and frustration for some tribes and activists.
“Whether it’s building coalitions among allies or reaching across the aisle to bridge divides, Cheryl is masterful at persuading public policy makers to do what’s right for Native communities. I’ve been grateful for her counsel as we’ve worked together to tackle issues of importance to Indian Country,” Warren said in her introduction of Andrews-Maltais. “Congress needs that kind of counsel now more than ever. We need action.”
The senator highlighted several areas where she said Congress must take action, including addressing the rising number of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls; rising suicide rates among Native Americans; as well as resources for housing, health care and addiction treatment.
HuffPost first reported on Warren’s appearance.
Warren recently apologized in private to Cherokee Nation leaders and publicly, on Capitol Hill last week, ahead of her presidential campaign kickoff this past Saturday.
“I am not a tribal citizen,” Warren said in a interview with CNN last week, adding that she was “sorry for not being more mindful of this decades ago. Tribes and only tribes determine tribal citizenship.”
But a day later, the Washington Post reported that Warren had listed her race as “American Indian” on a State Bar of Texas registration card in 1986. It marked the first time the claim had been documented in Warren’s own handwriting, reignited a debate that had begun quiet down, and prompted yet another apology.
“As Senator Warren has said she is not a citizen of any tribe and only tribes determine tribal citizenship,” Kristen Orthman, Warren’s spokeswoman, said in a statement. “She is sorry that she was not more mindful of this earlier in her career.”
Warren’s campaign did not inform reporters that she would be attending or speaking at the Tuesday luncheon, instead sharing her prepared remarks – which an aide said she did not deviate from – after the event.
A Warren aide also provided Haaland’s introduction, in which the freshman congresswoman touted Warren’s work focused legislative work on issues affecting Native communities, including a bill aimed at the opioid crisis that contained, she said, “strong tribal provisions that respect tribal sovereignty.”
“Indian Country needs strong allies like Elizabeth Warren,” Haaland said, “whose unwavering commitment to Native communities and Native American women and children is needed in this political era.”
A spokeswoman for Haaland confirmed that the congresswoman introduced Warren at the luncheon.
That event was not, according to the the National Congress of American Indians, a part of today’s National Congress of American Indians.
“Senator Warren did not make a surprise visit to the NCAI conference today,” a spokeswoman told CNN, “although it is my understanding that she spoke at the National Indian Women Honor Luncheon. Even though it was held it the same location as the conference it was not an NCAI event.”
Warren spoke to NCAI’s Executive Council Winter Session and Tribal Nations Policy Summit in February of last year, saying in part: “I understand that tribal membership is determined by tribes – and only by tribe. I never used my family tree to get a break or get ahead. I never used it to advance my career.”
CNN’s Manu Raju and Caroline Kelly contributed to this report