Sen. Elizabeth Warren has rolled out many detailed plans on the presidential campaign trail, but on Friday she released her longest, most comprehensive one. The topic: Native Americans and tribal rights.
The proposal, released ahead of a presidential forum on the topic in Iowa on Monday, comes as Warren has risen in the polls and as President Donald Trump has stepped up his attacks on the Massachusetts senator and her past claims of Native American heritage.
“The story of America’s mistreatment of American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians is a long and painful one, rooted in centuries of discrimination, neglect, greed, and violence,” Warren wrote in a Medium post. “Washington owes Native communities a fighting chance to build stronger communities and a brighter future.”
At more than 9,000 words, the plan is more than double the length of any other proposal she’s introduced during her presidential campaign. That includes her ambitious plans to break up some of the biggest tech companies in the world, forgive more than $600 billion in student loan debt, and revamp the federal government’s investment in rural America — including a massive expansion of broadband.
Warren also announced she is partnering with freshman Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.), who endorsed Warren last month, on a legislative proposal that would confront unmet needs in Indian Country. Haaland is one of the first two native women elected to Congress. There will be a comment period to allow tribal leaders and citizens to help shape the final legislation.
Warren and her team’s intense focus on the issue is, in part, a response to years of questions about her past claims of Native American ancestry. Those questions led her to release the results of a DNA test last year in an attempt to prove that her past claims were merited.
The rollout prompted mocking at the time from President Donald Trump — who derisively calls her "Pocahontas." But the more potentially damaging reaction came from the left and some Native American leaders who criticized her for seeming to appropriate a racial identity through a DNA test in order to settle a political controversy.
“Senator Warren is undermining tribal interests with her continued claims of tribal heritage,” then-Cherokee Nation Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr. said in a statement at the time. In the winter of 2018, before launching her presidential run, Warren reached out and apologized to leaders of the Cherokee Nation. Days after she announced her candidacy in February, Warren also made a surprise stop at the National Indian Women Honor Luncheon, at which she introduced the chairwoman of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head , Cheryl Andrews-Maltais.
Many political strategists predicted Warren had doomed her presidential ambitions, but she has managed to climb back to become a leading candidate of the 2020 race. Some strategists wonder if she has merely rebounded from where she was going to be before the DNA test or if she has taken the fire out of the controversy.
Trump, who has noticed the upturn in Warren’s fortunes, turned his attention back to her on Thursday evening during a New Hampshire rally at which he promised more attacks on the subject.
“Like, Elizabeth Warren — I did the Pocahontas thing,” Trump said. “I hit her really hard, and it looked like she was down and out, but that was too long ago. I should’ve waited. But don’t worry, we will revive it.”
The issue does not come up on the trail often from voters or reporters. In dozens of interviews, concerns about Warren’s electability usually revolve around her being too far to the left or whether a female candidate can defeat Trump in a country that’s never elected a woman president.
The criticism over the handling of the DNA test was just the latest iteration of the controversy surrounding Warren’s past claims of Native American ancestry. It emerged during Warren’s first Senate run in 2012 when Republicans suggested she used it to get hired by prestigious universities. In 2018, Warren gave The Boston Globe access to her university personnel files, a step she had previously resisted. The paper determined the people in charge of hiring considered her a white woman and that her claims of Native American ancestry were not a factor.
Warren’s exhaustive plan makes no mention of her fraught history on the issue but it does address seemingly every other topic, including past treaties, criminal jurisdiction, the Dakota Access pipeline, banking access, roads, Native American contractors, housing, the Indian Health Service, the Bureau of Indian Education, violence against indigenous women, and many more issues.
The Warren team highlighted that she is the first presidential candidate to call for an “Oliphant fix,” a reference to a 1978 Supreme Court decision that says non-natives on tribal land aren’t automatically subject to tribal government criminal jurisdiction.
“Congress is currently attempting to expand the domestic violence exception to Oliphant as part of the latest reauthorization of" the Violence Against Women Act, she wrote. “I wholeheartedly support that effort. But I believe that respecting Tribal sovereignty and improving public safety in Indian Country demands that we must go much further.”
Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine