Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren offered a public apology Monday to Native Americans over her 40-year claim to tribal heritage, hoping to erase an area that’s proved to be a big political liability.
“Like anyone who has been honest with themselves, I know I have made mistakes,” the Massachusetts senator said at a forum on Native American issues in this pivotal early-voting state. “I am sorry for the harm I have caused.”
Monday’s remarks were an effort to move past the fallout from her past claims of fake tribal ancestry, which culminated in a widely criticized release of a DNA analysis last year. The issue nearly derailed her campaign in the early days as President Donald Trump began derisively referring to her as “Pocahontas.”
Warren was once celebrated by Harvard Law School as their only minority professor, contributed to the cookbook Pow-Wow Chow with a fake family recipe, and applied to law school as a minority student.
Now, she says that she’s sorry.
Warren is gaining in most polls, so she’s trying to prove to voters that the controversy won’t doom her in a general election matchup against Trump. The detailed policy agenda to help Native Americans that she released last week helped her secure a warm reception from attendees at the tribal forum.
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After drawing a standing ovation, Warren said “I have listened and I have learned a lot” from conversations with Native Americans in recent months, describing herself as “grateful” for the dialogue. She fielded questions about her proposals, which include a legislative change for a Supreme Court ruling that impedes tribal governments’ ability to prosecute crimes committed on tribal lands by those who don’t belong to a tribe.
She did not receive any questions about her own background.
Warren’s DNA analysis showed evidence of a tribal ancestor — but only 10 generations back. It was part of a broader pushback against Trump’s disparaging nickname, but the Cherokee Nation joined some other Native Americans in rebuking the senator for attributing tribal membership to genetics. Warren’s Native America ancestry is less than that of the average American.
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It seems to be working.
New Mexico Rep. Deb Haaland, who last year became one of the first two Native American women elected to Congress, introduced Warren on Monday after endorsing her presidential campaign last month and aligning with her for new legislation aimed at helping tribal communities.
Those who “ask about Elizabeth’s family instead of issues of vital importance to Indian Country,” Haaland told the forum audience, are racists.
Manny Iron Hawk, 62, who lives on the Cheyenne River Sioux reservation in South Dakota, said Warren “did excellent” in her Monday appearance and has done a good job of addressing her past mistakes. “I think she did. A person has to admit their mistakes and move on.”
Iron Hawk said he had hoped to talk to Warren about tribal governance issues, but she left too quickly for him to catch her.
The Associated Press contributed to this article