September 18, 2019

Elizabeth Warren Apologizes at Native American Forum: ‘I Have Listened and I Have Learned’

Elizabeth Warren Apologizes at Native American Forum: ‘I Have Listened and I Have Learned’


SIOUX CITY, Iowa — Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, speaking at a presidential forum on Native American issues on Monday, offered a direct, public apology for the “harm” that she caused and pledged to uplift Native people as president.

Ms. Warren was met with a standing ovation when she took the stage, and she began by addressing the controversy over her past claims of Native American ancestry.

“Like anyone who’s being honest with themselves, I know that I have made mistakes,” Ms. Warren said. “I am sorry for harm I have caused. I have listened and I have learned a lot, and I am grateful for the many conversations that we’ve had together.”

She continued, “It is a great honor to be able to partner with Indian Country, and that’s what I’ve tried to do as a senator, and that’s what I promise I will do as president of the United States of America.”

Ms. Warren, in keeping with her reputation as the presidential candidate with an enormous collection of detailed plans, has made a concerted effort to develop a policy agenda that would help Native Americans.

But her appearance at the forum, held at a theater in Sioux City, was closely watched because of the long-running controversy over the ancestry claims, an issue that is certain to be used against her if she is the Democratic nominee. Ms. Warren faced criticism from some Native Americans last year after she released the results of a DNA test that provided evidence she had a Native American ancestor. After entering the presidential race, she apologized for the DNA test and for identifying herself as Native American during her career as a law professor.

On Friday, Ms. Warren rolled out a set of proposals intended to help Native Americans, covering topics like tribal sovereignty and missing indigenous women. She also released a wide-ranging legislative proposal with Representative Deb Haaland, Democrat of New Mexico and one of the first Native American women to serve in Congress. The proposal covers areas like criminal justice, health care and economic development.

In addition, some of the policy plans Ms. Warren released earlier in her campaign would provide funding earmarked for Native American communities to address issues like housing and the opioid crisis. She has also worked on Native American matters in the Senate, sponsoring legislation about suicide prevention and child abuse in Native communities.

The two-day forum, named in honor of Frank LaMere, a Native American activist who died in June, is being hosted by Four Directions, a Native American voting rights group, and the Native Organizers Alliance. Ms. Warren was the second candidate to speak, after Marianne Williamson. Other candidates scheduled to attend include Senators Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, as well as Julián Castro, the former housing secretary, who last month released his own plan to support indigenous communities.

OJ and Barb Semans, the co-executive directors of Four Directions, decided that Ms. Warren would not be asked about her ancestry during her appearance, Mr. Semans said in an interview. He said the Warren campaign made no requests about what she would or would not be asked.

Mr. Semans, a member of the Rosebud Sioux tribe, faulted President Trump for mocking Ms. Warren by calling her “Pocahontas.” He said he had no problem with how Ms. Warren had referred to her ancestry, and that it was more important to spend time on issues that could help the lives of Native Americans, “not whether or not her DNA test was done properly or improperly.”

“How many times do you have to argue something that’s already done?” he asked. “That issue has been dealt with, it’s been taken care of, and we move on. But what hasn’t been dealt with and taken care of is President Trump’s continued use of it in a derogatory way.”

It remains to be seen how much the ancestry issue will linger over Ms. Warren as the campaign goes on. At a rally in New Hampshire last week, Mr. Trump repeated the “Pocahontas” slur and promised there would be more to come.

“I did the Pocahontas thing,” he said. “I hit her really hard, and it looked like she was down and out, but that was too long ago. I should have waited. But don’t worry, we will revive it.”

No amount of outreach or contrition from Ms. Warren will make the issue go away entirely among some Native Americans, said Mark Trahant, the editor of Indian Country Today, who is moderating the forum.

“There is a significant group, mostly on Twitter but significant nonetheless, who will never take any apology from her,” he said. “They see it as a felony.”

Ms. Haaland, who endorsed Ms. Warren last month, takes a different view than those critics.

“I think she’s been able to move past it, quite frankly,” she said. “Her heart is in the right place. She cares deeply about Indian Country.”



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