JP Indian Center: Warren should visit us

U.S. Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren, who is embroiled in a controversy over her claims of American Indian ethnicity, has never visited the local North American Indian Center of Boston (NAICOB), despite her many campaign stops in Jamaica Plain, according to the center’s head.

“We’ve never heard from Elizabeth Warren, unfortunately,” said NAICOB Executive Director Joanne Dunn in a Gazette interview. “We would like to see her. It would be nice if she reached out to us.”

“She can come on down. We’ll make her some frybread,” Dunn continued, referring to a traditional food in several American Indian cultures. She added that she has extended an “open invitation” to Warren to visit the 105 S. Huntington Ave. center.

Warren’s campaign did not immediately respond to Gazette questions.

The blue-eyed, blond-haired Warren is under fire for listing her ethnicity as “Native American” in a popular law school directory in the 1980s and 1990s, despite having no solid evidence of such a background. Harvard Law School, her current employer, also described her as a “minority” faculty member at that time. Her campaign recently released geneaological information indicating that her background may be 1/32 American Indian. Warren was quoted in national media as saying that she listed herself as Native American to connect herself with other people of American Indian ethnicity.

But Warren, who lives in nearby Cambridge and has campaigned repeatedly in JP, has never visited NAICOB, which provides social services and general social connections to American Indian people from more than 40 nations. In operation for 40 years, NAICOB is Boston’s oldest American Indian center. It previously held such popular community events as an annual powwow.

“I don’t feel like I’m in any position to make a determination on her Indian-ness,” Dunn said of the Warren controversy. She noted that each of the more than 550 American Indian nations sets its own standards for determining membership, and that Warren’s reported 1/32 ethnicity would qualify for some nations. She added that if the reports about one of Warren’s ancestors in the 1800s self-identifying as American Indian are correct, that is probably true because there was little benefit to lying about such ethnicity in the America of that era.

But identification is a crucial issue for determining eligibility for social service help and for gaining any other benefits of being an American Indian nation member, Dunn said. To access most NAICOB programs, people must present an official Certificate of Indian Blood document. Lacking that, a person could still qualify if a grandparent is properly documented, she said.

However, many American Indians are not officially enrolled as members of nations, and people sometimes visit NAICOB “just for social connections or to learn about themselves or their heritage,” Dunn said.

Warren, a Democrat, is attempting to unseat incumbent Republican Scott Brown from one of Massachusetts’s two U.S. Senate seats.

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