Late Breaking: Rapid Response History: Native American Identities, Racial Slurs, and Elizabeth Warren

AHA Session
Saturday, January 5, 2019: 1:30 PM-3:00 PM
Adams Room (Palmer House Hilton, Sixth Floor)
Deborah Miranda, Washington and Lee University
Jean M. O'Brien-Kehoe, University of Minnesota Twin Cities
Julie L. Reed, Penn State University
Doug Kiel, Northwestern University
Malinda Maynor Lowery, Center for the Study of the American South, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
Alyssa Mt. Pleasant, University at Buffalo (State University of New York)
The Audience

Session Abstract

Media attention for Elizabeth Warren’s shifting claims of Native American ancestry flared up again in fall 2018. While activity such as Warren’s recent release of DNA test results prompts news items, op-eds, and social media exchanges, the constraints of these platforms prevent nuanced, contextualized conversations grounded in American Indian history. Most Americans’ knowledge of the issues revolving around Warren is limited to the troubling oversimplification provided by journalists; this roundtable addresses the layers of history behind these news stories from the variety of perspectives offered by American Indian history.

This roundtable stages a conversation between Indigenous historians Jean M. O’Brien, Malinda Maynor Lowery, Doug Kiel, Julie Reed, and Alyssa Mt. Pleasant, with chair Deborah Miranda. Together they will develop a longer and broader conversation about this topic, confronting distorted media coverage and “hot takes” to convey both the detailed history of American Indian identities and the social, political, economic, and legal stakes of this topic for contemporary Indigenous peoples and nations. Roundtable participants will address claims of American Indian heritage, the use of “Pocahontas” as a nickname and slur, the history of appropriation of Cherokee identities, the development of blood quantum criteria, and the relationship between the “one-drop rule” of racial ancestry and American Indian identity and citizenship.

While Warren’s story has raised the visibility of these issues, they are still not well-understood by scholars outside the field of American Indian history, who may not confront them every day but must nonetheless respond to the various interpretations of these events in their classrooms and their professional lives. Presenters on this roundtable will de-center Warren’s particular story, instead illuminating the more nuanced and significant issues surrounding American Indian identities and indigeneity that inform our discussion of both American Indian and United States history. In this way, they will share with historians from a variety of fields a new set of tools and terminology, as well as a deeper appreciation of the significance of these on-going public discussions related to American Indian identities for major policy issues in the Trump era.

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