Herschel Walker at a recent campaign event in Georgia. (Photo: Illustration: Chris McGonigal/HuffPost; Photo: Getty Images)
At a little-noticed campaign event late last month, Georgia Republican Senate nominee Herschel Walker announced with great fanfare that his grandmother was “full-blood Cherokee” and that it means he is Native American.
“My mom just told me that my mom, grandmother, was full-blood Cherokee,” Walker said at the Sept. 28 event in Forsyth, Georgia. “So I’m Native American!”
“I’m a super mutt,” he continued. “I don’t know what I am, but this was so funny. This was so funny. I said, ‘Mom, why you never said anything to us?’ She said, ‘Back in my days, a lot of the Native Americans were treated worse than Blacks.’”
Here’s a video clip of his remarks:
Walker has been claiming for months that he has significant Native American ancestry, saying each time that he’d just learned this news from his mom.
At a January campaign event at the University of Georgia, he said he had just found out that his mother is “40% Native American.”
He repeated his claim at four campaign events in May, as if he had just discovered it. At one, he said he just learned that his mother is “a big part Native American” and it means he is “part Native American, too.” At another, he said again, “My mom is part Native American, a big part” and it means “I am ‘other’ as well.” At another, he said is “proud to be Black but … I may not be Black” because he just learned “my mother is part Native American.” And at still another, he said he just found out his “mom is a big part Native American.”
At a June 20th campaign event in College Park, Georgia, Walker said he found out “I’m part Native American” by doing a 23 and Me ancestry test. He said he wanted to “acknowledge all of my family,” referring to Native Americans.
His September claim went the furthest. He said his mother had just told him his grandmother was full-blooded Cherokee.
Walker hasn’t offered any evidence to back up his claims about having Native ancestry beyond saying it’s what his mother told him.
HuffPost reached out to all three of the federally recognized Cherokee tribes in the U.S. ― Cherokee Nation, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians ― to see if they had any records that could validate Walker’s claims of ancestry in their tribes.
Two did not respond. But a spokesperson for Cherokee Nation, the largest tribal government in the U.S. with more than 360,000 citizens, said it has no record of Walker in its database of citizens.
“There is no one listed in Cherokee Nation’s Registration database with that name and birthdate,” said the tribe’s spokesperson.
Walker’s campaign, meanwhile, did not respond to a request for comment about his claims of being part Cherokee or to a request for evidence that his grandmother was full-blooded Cherokee. HuffPost also asked for the name and birth date of Walker’s grandmother, which Cherokee Nation officials could look up in their database. The campaign did not respond.
So HuffPost went directly to the source of Walker’s claims: his mother, who said she has no idea if an immediate ancestor was full-blooded Cherokee.
Instead, Christine Walker said she grew up hearing stories about her father’s mother ― so, Herschel Walker’s great-grandmother ― being “kin” to the tribe.
“She was kin to Cherokee,” she said during a brief phone interview on Wednesday. “Back when I was a little child running around, she was kin to the Cherokee.” Asked to clarify what she meant by that, she said her grandmother was believed to be related to Cherokee peoples in some way, but she didn’t know how.
“I don’t know how far back” her apparent Cherokee ancestry went, she said. “See, my grandmother, she passed when I was quite young. I don’t know too much about how she was connected.”
Walker’s campaign did not respond to a follow-up request for comment about his mother’s account of their family’s Cherokee ancestry, which is at odds with Walker’s claim that his grandmother was full-blooded Cherokee.
Lots of Americans think they have Cherokee ancestry despite not being able to point directly to a Cherokee in their family tree. One of the reasons people perpetuate this myth with such ease, as Slate put it in 2015, is that “shifting one’s identity to claim ownership of an imagined Cherokee past is at once a way to authenticate your American-ness and absolve yourself of complicity in the crimes Americans committed against the tribe across history.”
This feels a lot like the narrative Walker is trying to create with his claims about being part Cherokee.
“Forget about this color thing and get back to the right thing: America,” the GOP Senate nominee stated at one of his May campaign events, right after saying his mother was part Native American. “The people that represent America.”
In 2018, then-Cherokee Nation Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin, Jr. rebuked Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) for releasing the results of a DNA test to connect herself to Native Americans. Republicans criticized and mocked Warren over it for years, with former President Donald Trump repeatedly and offensively referring to her as “Pocahontas.” (Warren later apologized for trying to link herself to Native Americans.)
A spokesperson for Cherokee Nation did not respond to a request for comment from Hoskin, now the tribe’s principal chief, on Walker’s claims.
Tribes each have their own unique requirements for proving ancestry. Cherokee Nation, for one, requires documents that directly connect a person to an enrolled lineal ancestor who is listed on The Dawes Rolls, the final lists of people accepted as eligible for tribal membership in the so-called Five Civilized Tribes: Cherokees, Creeks, Choctaws, Chickasaws and Seminoles.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.