Last week, Sen. Elizabeth Warren released a DNA test suggesting she had a Native American ancestor six to 10 generations ago.
The move was an apparent response to criticism from figures like President Donald Trump, who has frequently invoked Warren's claims of Native American heritage when insulting her.
But in attempting to establish her heritage through a DNA test, Warren may have inadvertently allowed Trump to dictate the terms of the political conversation, said Reverend Irene Monroe and Reverend Emmett Price on "All Revved Up," their recurring segment on Boston Public Radio. Monroe is a syndicated religion columnist and the Boston voice for Detour’s African American Heritage Trail, and Price is a professor and founding executive director of the Institute for the Study of the Black Christian Experience at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.
"What happens is it really gives Trump the upper hand," Monroe said.
Monroe criticized the underlying logic of using a DNA test to "prove" ancestry. Though Warren did not claim membership to any specific tribe, she also did not engage with the criteria that many tribal governments use today to determine tribal membership, which are not DNA-based.
"[Warren] really is privileging non-indigenous definitions of being indigenous. That's the problem here," Monroe explained.
Price said that Warren could have more effectively silenced critics by using her platform to advocate on behalf of Native Americans.
"[This controversy] would have been over if she would have advocated for indigenous people in the platform and the position that she has," Price said.