#23andMeToo: Elizabeth Warren and the search for heritage

Now that the DNA is out of the bag, Sen. Elizabeth Warren can put her Native American heritage down for a nap - maybe.

After two and a half years of being mocked by Donald Trump as "Pocahontas," referring to the Massachusetts Democrat's claim that she's part American Indian, Warren had her DNA tested. The results released Monday showed "strong evidence" that she is, indeed, a little bit Native American, possibly going back six to 10 generations - somewhere between 1/64th and 1/1,024th Indian.

She had to do it. As long as Trump breathed, Warren would be viewed by many as the caricature he had drawn. If Trump knows anything, it's branding - and he had painted a big P (not for president) in the middle of Warren's forehead. His reaction upon hearing the news? "Who cares?" Indeed. But, of course, Trump did care and loved the Pocahontas moniker so much that he couldn't stop using it - over and over and over. Others also cared because Warren had listed herself as a minority in an Association of American Law Schools directory.

The senator also once recounted her aunt's common refrain that Warren's grandfather "had high cheekbones like all of the Indians do."

There's nothing sinister about repeating family lore that there might be Native American blood in the lineage going way back. And, until recently, there was virtually no way to prove or disprove it. I heard similar tales growing up about my own family's possible Native American roots. And as a child, I wanted - deeply - to be an "Indian princess," and always played on the Indian side when the neighborhood cowboys invaded our territory. As far as I was concerned, the plainly Irish Connor clan (my maiden name) composed an entire Illinois tribe. In fact, at a family reunion in Newton, Illinois, we once traipsed a mile into the woods to view a family burial ground that included stone markers thought to belong to Native Americans. Thus, I'd always sympathized with Warren's story and how she grew up believing she was part Indian.

To find out if her story was true, Warren enlisted the help of a Stanford University genetics professor, Carlos Bustamante, whose DNA testing "strongly" supported that Warren is Native American. And, proud of it, according to a video released by her campaign, in which Warren is shown talking by phone to Bustamante and saying, "The president likes to call my mom a liar. What do the facts say?"

I don't know Cherokee for "Oy," but consider it said.

Meanwhile, what is all this business about pride in one's genetic heritage, especially at the minuscule percentages under discussion? At what point does one get to brag about his or her ancestry? Outward pride in a faint, distant heritage does carry a whiff of confiscatory entitlement. Or, perhaps, a type of territorial one-upsmanship, as in: "My family was here before your family."

Native American leaders didn't exactly embrace Warren's announcement. "A DNA test is useless to determine tribal citizenship," said Cherokee Nation Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr. in a statement. "Senator Warren is undermining tribal interests with her continued claims of tribal heritage."

Poor Warren. All she wanted to do was defend her mother's honor and she has only gone and made things worse. It seems she has no one with whom to celebrate her proud heritage.

Ahem. As it turns out, I'm not busy, and, I, too, am part Native American, according to the genetic-testing company 23andme - a whopping 1 percent. I'm also part Viking, as well as Neanderthal, but probably so are you.

Which is to say, this is all fun and interesting - and also ridiculous. "What's your sign?" may soon morph into "What's your DNA?" It will be nice if someday we no longer find it necessary to segregate ourselves according to our long-ago lineage. We are, after all, descended from the same original source, and our differences, while interesting, are largely inconsequential.

You'd never know it by our politics, which daily vacillate between the surreal and the absurd. In that vein, it's hard to imagine what could top a celebrity game-show president causing a brilliant, scholarly woman to test her DNA so that he would stop teasing her and she could run for president.

I've got an idea: Kathleen Parker for president on the Viking ticket.

Kathleen Parker's email address is

© 2018, Washington Post Writers Group

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