The chief of the Cherokee Nation on Wednesday demanded an apology from Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) for what he called an "uneducated, unenlightened and racist portrayal of native peoples" by senior staff on his campaign and in his Senate office.
At a recent campaign rally, senior Brown staffers led a crowd of Brown supporters in a series of "war whoop chants" and "tomahawk chops," an attempt to mock Elizabeth Warren for citing her Native American ancestry in a Harvard guidebook.
"The Cherokee Nation is disappointed in and denounces the disrespectful actions of staffers and supporters of Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown. The conduct of these individuals goes far beyond what is appropriate and proper in political discourse. The use of stereotypical 'war whoop chants' and 'tomahawk chops' are offensive and downright racist," said Bill John Baker, principal chief of the Cherokee Nation, in a statement. "The individuals involved in this unfortunate incident are high ranking staffers in both the senate office and the Brown campaign. A campaign that would allow and condone such offensive and racist behavior must be called to task for their actions."
During the first debate between Brown and Warren, Brown told the audience that he could tell by looking at Warren, who was born in Oklahoma, that she does not have any Native American lineage. He later denied having said that.
Brown, asked by reporters to respond to criticism of his senior staff at the rally, said that Warren committed the "real offense" for listing herself as Native American. "That's not something I condone. That's certainly something, if I am aware of it, I would tell that member not to do it again," he said. "I know everyone is in the throes of the political season. I ask everyone to show real class and decorum on both sides."
At separate rally, however, a Brown supporter let out another "war whoop" and Brown didn't respond, though he didn't actively condone the act, either. The video was posted on a local GOP website and spotted by BlueMassGroup, which also found audio of Brown laughing at Native American jokes in reference to Warren.
Warren says she was told growing up that she descended from a Cherokee woman. Brown's campaign has demanded proof, but records from that time barely exist.
Brown, by denying the charge he himself had made at the debate, and by refusing to apologize, risks losing the high ground on what he clearly sees as an advantageous issue.
"The Cherokee Nation is a modern, productive society, and I am blessed to be their chief. I will not be silent when individuals mock and insult our people and our great nation," Baker said. "We need individuals in the United States Senate who respect Native Americans and have an understanding of tribal issues. For that reason, I call upon Sen. Brown to apologize for the offensive actions of his staff and their uneducated, unenlightened and racist portrayal of native peoples."
Baker, of course, is not an unbiased observer. He was a Democratic delegate to the party's national convention in Charlotte, N.C.