WASHINGTON ― Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) made a surprise appearance at a Native American conference on Tuesday.
Warren spoke at the National Indian Women’s “Supporting Each Other” lunch, where she introduced Cheryl Andrews-Maltais, the chairwoman of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head Aquinnah in Massachusetts. The event took place during an annual meeting of the National Congress of American Indians.
Warren received a standing ovation from tribal leaders and other Native attendees as she approached the stage. She called on Congress to take more action on Native issues, including “the alarming number of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls,” suicide rates among Native people, housing, health care and addiction.
But most of her remarks were spent praising Native women, saying she was there to lift up Native voices. She specifically mentioned Reps. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.) and Sharice Davids (D-Kansas) ― the first two Native women elected to Congress ― and Andrews-Maltais, who was given an award.
“The agenda is enormous and the fights will be tough,” Warren said. “In tough fights, it is important to have leaders like Cheryl out in front. Cheryl is warm, and understanding and sharp. She’s forceful and let’s say it — she persists.”
Warren’s remarks come after she apologized to the Cherokee Nation for releasing a DNA test in October in an attempt to prove she had Native ancestry. The Washington Post also recently revealed that Warren listed her race as “American Indian” when she filled out a form for the Texas state bar in 1986.
She was warmly welcomed at Tuesday’s event. She could barely make it through the crowd of about 150 people as she was trying to leave, with attendees swarming her for photos and hugs by the door. Before she left, NCAI President Jefferson Keel and National Indian Gaming Association Chairman Ernie Stevens Jr. greeted her and took several photos with her. Prior to the event, the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center also presented Warren with a Native American shawl to thank her for her work on the Violence Against Women Act.
“It’s important that we show our support for her. We’re not in the room yet,” said Brenda Toineeta Pipestem, a former NIWRC board member and currently a tribal Supreme Court justice. “We have to rely on our allies to fight for us behind closed doors and on the floor of the Senate to protect our Native American women and children.”
President Donald Trump routinely makes racist attacks on Warren for saying she has Native ancestry, and says she tried to use her ancestry claims to advance her career. The Republican Party has piled on with racist attacks, too, as Warren embarks on a 2020 presidential bid. There is no evidence Warren’s ancestry claims have ever helped her advance her career.
Haaland introduced Warren at the event, saying, “Indian Country needs strong allies like Elizabeth Warren, whose unwavering commitment to Native communities and Native American women and children is needed in this political era.”
Warren also spoke in a surprise appearance at the 2018 conference for the National Congress of American Indians and received a standing ovation. In that speech, she promised to stand up for Native American issues and insisted, “I never used my family tree to get a break or get ahead. I never used it to advance my career.”
National and state polls place Warren in the middle of a crowded field of presidential candidates. Most show the best-known potential candidates, like Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders, leading the field.
This is a developing story and has been updated throughout.