After weeks of controversy, Massachusetts Democratic Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren said on Wednesday night that she did indeed tell the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard University that she was Native American.
But she stipulated that the notification occurred only after she was hired by the two schools.
“I let people know about my Native American heritage in a national directory of law school personnel. At some point after I was hired by them, I also provided that information to the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard” Warren said in a statement. “My Native American heritage is part of who I am, I’m proud of it, and I have been open about it.
The statement marks the first time Warren has explicitly stated that she self-identified as Native American to the law schools where she has been employed. The controversy began last month after a 1996 article from the Harvard Crimson surfaced in which Warren was referred to as a minority faculty member by a spokesman for Harvard Law School. Warren had previously said that she did not know Harvard had touted her as such.
Warren has received a great deal of criticism since the story first emerged, in large part because no documentation has been found to back up Warren’s claim that she is indeed of Native American ancestry. Warren’s great-great-great grandmother, O.C. Sarah Smith, was referenced as Cherokee Indian on her son William Crawford’s 1894 marriage license application, a 2006 family newsletter showed. The document itself was not an actual marriage license, and it has not been located, according to genealogists at the New England Historic Genealogical Society.
Warren also addressed the questions surrounding the lack of documentation in her statement.
“Growing up, my mother and my grandparents and my aunts and uncles often talked about our family’s Native American heritage. As a kid, I never thought to ask them for documentation- what kid would?- but that doesn’t change the fact that it is a part of who I am and part of my family heritage” she said.
It is not clear if the drawn-out story of Warren’s heritage has yet damaged her candidacy. Recent polling shows the Harvard Law professor in a virtual tie with incumbent Republican Senator Scott Brown.
On Wednesday, Warren received an unexpected endorsement from Massachusetts’ Governor Deval Patrick. Patrick’s endorsement, just days before the Massachusetts Democratic party holds their state convention, was a surprise because the popular Democratic governor had previously stated that he would remain neutral in the primary race. Warren is the heavy favorite in the primary, but does face a primary challenge from Marisa DeFranco, an immigration lawyer who has received little attention.
In order to qualify for the ballot in the Democratic primary, which will take place on September 6th, DeFranco must receive the support of at least 15 percent of the delegates at Saturday’s state convention. Gov. Patrick said he expects Ms. DeFranco to reach that mark, but conventional wisdom dictates that she will not pose a real threat to Warren’s campaign.