“If ancestor stealing was a crime, you would be #1 on the Genealogical Bureau of Investigation’s Most Wanted List!
For confusion’s sake, Eric Fehrnstrom and the Boston Herald chose well. When it comes to Cherokees, heritage issues are as arcane as they are contentious. Active, partisan disputes in the Cherokee Nation, many of which revolve around genealogy, are intense, and it is not surprising that the right-wing has found two Cherokee gadflies, Twila Barnes and David Cornsilk, to legitimize their smear of the Elizabeth Warren. There is no indication that they support a particular party, but there is ample evidence to show each has a well-defined agenda.
For all American Indians, tribal membership can often be a matter of debate. In some tribes, membership is determined by blood quantum, the degree of ancestry of an individual. Some tribes, for example, require members to have a minimum of one great-grandparent for membership. For the Cherokee Nation, however, the only ancestors that count are those that can be traced to the Dawes Rolls, a sort of census used to allot land to some Indians in place of reservations. Theoretically, a person could be have two Cherokee parents, but if she is unable to trace their ancestry back to the Dawes Rolls, they don’t qualify as Cherokee.
One ongoing Cherokee controversy involving tribal citizenship concerns the Cherokee Freedmen–descendants of African American slaves and their Cherokee masters. After the Civil War, the Cherokee Freedmen were made citizens of the Cherokee Nation in accordance with a treaty made with the United States government; however, in the 1980s, the Cherokee Nation itself amended its citizenship rules and required direct descent from an ancestor listed in the “Cherokee By Blood” section of the Dawes Rolls.
Aside from genealogical issues, there are internecine political battles between factions. Twila Barnes, a Breitbart favorite, has been involved in protesting the eligibility of tribal candidates in Cherokee Nation elections. Along with blogger David Cornsilk, Barnes has formed a group to challenge Warren’s heritage claims. They plan to protest at the Democratic State Convention.
Ms. Barnes genealogical beliefs are controversial, and she has an agenda. Her blog Thoughts from Polly’s Granddaughter has 42 posts dedicated to the topic of wannabes, people who want to claim Cherokee ancestry but aren’t truly of Cherokee descent. She also alludes to her blog, if not her contributions on Genealogy.com’s American Indian forum, being banned from the Genealogy.com. The reason for the banning: racism.
On her blog, Barnes also accuses wannabes of genocide, paper genocide, that is:
Though there are no dead bodies laying around.., there are still attempts at genocide against the Cherokees going on today. It is what I call paper genocide. Instead of killing us outright, they are now trying to erase our Indian ancestors from history and replace them with their white ancestors. By doing so, not only do they get rid of that particular Indian, they also get rid of all of his descendants and replace those descendants with those of the white man.
In addition to her involvement in intra-tribal affairs, Ms. Barnes filed suit in Oklahoma Federal Court. Her daughter had joined her high school’s wrestling team in 2010, they were featured in an article. A year later, she sued the school for the sexual and racial harassment on the wrestling team. The suit is here. It certainly sounds serious enough, and I can’t help feeling bad for her kids at any rate. There have been no followups to the story.
And if you can believe this prayer request, her husband’s in jail, and she had filed for divorce. Her website, however, says she’s happily married to a career military man.