EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Merrimack Valley

May 6, 2012

Warren's claim as Native American opens debate over ethnic ties

LAWRENCE — Questions about her Native American heritage continued to dog the campaign of Democratic Massachusetts U.S. Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren late last week, even as she made a stop at the Everett Mills to celebrate labor unions and the Bread and Roses strike of 1912.

After proclaiming her allegiance to organized labor and working families in a speech to about 100 people in the sixth-floor exhibition hall on Friday, Warren reiterated that her designation as a Native American in a book on law professors back in the 1980s and 1990s was based on family lore.

"I'm proud of my heritage," she told reporters after making remarks at the breakfast gathering. "I grew up on family stories about who I am. It's something we just talk about in my family. As I've said, it's part of who we are."

Experts in genealogy and Native American culture said this week that such a claim, if used to further an academic or professional career, would certainly be unethical, although not illegal.

Others say the issue has brought up many questions about racial and ethnic identity, both in terms of the DNA makeup of people and their cultural connections.

It's also spotlighted a robust interest in genealogy, as more and more people are plunging into their ancestral past in an effort to find out who they really are. Aided by the Internet and DNA analysis, people can find out more easily than ever where they came from and who they're related to. Even many people from Latin America, including those from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, are finding that they have Indian roots in the ancient Taino tribe.

'Ethnic fraud'?

In Warren's case, questions remain as to whether she used her Native American ancestry to further her career as a law professor. Some critics say she's guilty of what's known as "box-checking," or designating yourself as a Native American in order to be considered a minority in the eyes of future employers or college admissions officers.

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