Elections BC used a hypothetical Indigenous voter named “Luz Warren” in its training material who has the same birth year as U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren—but the organization denies the reference is a joke about the former presidential hopeful’s Native American ancestry controversy.
An Elections BC employee sent VICE News a photo of a fictional Indian Status card that shows a drawing of a woman named Luz Warren who belongs to the Tsleil-Waututh Nation.
The card was being used as an example of different types of identification people can show in order to vote in the provincial election on October 24.
The employee, who is not being named due to concerns over their job, said an Elections BC instructor laughed when going over the example, commenting on the similarity to Warren.
“It seems very strange that an office that is meant to be non-partisan would satirize an U.S. politician who has been controversial in her comments about her ostensible Indigenous identity,” the employee told VICE News.
Elections BC spokesman Andrew Watson said the hypothetical voter “is absolutely not meant to be a play off of Elizabeth Warren. We sincerely regret this unfortunate coincidence, and apologize to anyone who may have taken offence at this.”
Warren’s office did not respond to request for comment.
Watson said the fictional name was provided by a contractor—he did not say who or if the contractor was Canadian.
“We were not aware of any sensitivities around this name when we approved this material. This was not meant to be a joke, as we take inclusion of all eligible voters in the electoral process extremely seriously. We are also committed to providing an accessible and inclusive voting process for Indigenous voters in B.C.,” Watson said.
He said if an Elections BC instructor stated the sample voter was based on Warren, that person was mistaken.
Warren has apologized over her claims of Native American ancestry, including releasing a DNA test showing she had Indigenous ancestry six to 10 generations ago. In February, more than 200 members of the Cherokee Nation and other Native Americans wrote a letter to Warren criticizing her for equating race and biology with Native identity rather than tribal affilation.
Kim TallBear, an associate professor of Native Studies at the University of Alberta, said the contractor who made Elections BC’s materials likely “thought they were making a funny joke” and doesn’t understand Indigenous issues.
“To put it on a status card is very strange because very specifically, she has no claims to status anywhere,” said TallBear, who has written a book about DNA-based claims to Native American ancestry.
“Even though there’s a high probability that way back she had an Indigenous ancestor somewhere we have no idea who that person is or where they are from. The kind of DNA test she took doesn’t show that.”
During the Democratic primaries, President Donald Trump seized on the controversy, referring to Warren as “Pocahontas.”
“What Native people have said in both U.S. and Canada is that both Conservative and more progressive voters have made fun of this; they think they’re making fun of Elizabeth Warren but they’re also indirectly making fun of us,” TallBear said. “We always have to indirectly or indirectly be the butt of white people’s jokes.”
TallBear said she’s not surprised that the card slipped through the cracks at Elections BC, especially if no one Indigenous looked at it.
However, she said Elections BC should remove the example from its training materials.
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