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Elizabeth Warren opens door to reparations for Native Americans

Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren speaks at the New Hampshire Democratic Party's 60th Annual McIntyre-Shaheen 100 Club Dinner in Manchester, N.H., on Feb. 22, 2019. (Elise Amendola/AP)

MANCHESTER, N.H. — Sen. Elizabeth Warren said Friday evening that Native Americans should be “part of the conversation” on reparations, showing a willingness to expand the debate over whether minority groups that have faced discrimination should be financially compensated by the federal government.

Warren is one of four Democratic presidential hopefuls who have said in recent days that they are open to providing some type of reparations to African Americans who are descendants of people who were enslaved in the United States, although they have offered varying levels of details about how the goal would be achieved.

So far, Warren is the only one to entertain the notion of including Native Americans. “I think it’s a part of the conversation,” she said when asked whether the group should also receive some kind of relief. “I think it’s an important part of the conversation.”

In a statement released Saturday, Warren offered more context. “I fully support the federal government doing far more to live up to its existing trust and treaty responsibilities and that includes a robust discussion about historical injustices against Native people,” she said, adding that tribal nations “deserve a seat at the table in all decisions that will affect the well-being of their people and their communities.”

This ground is fraught for Warren, who claimed to be Native American for about two decades when she was a law professor. She has apologized for doing this, but the issue dogged her in her first Senate race and has been a persistent source of tension in her nascent presidential bid.

Warren made the remarks on reparations after addressing about 900 New Hampshire Democrats at the state party’s annual McIntyre-Shaheen 100 Club Dinner at the Hilton hotel in Manchester. Warren enjoyed a standing ovation when she took the stage, and her speech was frequently interrupted by applause.

Warren did not talk about reparations as part of her address. She recently told the New York Times that she would support the concept. Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) and former housing and urban development secretary Julián Castro both have said in vague terms that they support reparations for black Americans. Self-help guru Marianne Williamson, who announced her bid in January, has offered a detailed plan to give black Americans $100 billion.

When asked to expand on her support for reparations, Warren offered no new details.

“America has an ugly history of racism,” Warren said. “We need to confront it head-on. And we need to talk about the right way to address it and make change.”

She touted her $500 billion affordable-housing legislation, which is intended to vastly increase the number of low-income rental units in the country. She has won support for it from members of the Congressional Black Caucus.

“I have a housing bill that talks about more recent forms of discrimination which we also need to address head-on,” Warren said.

Warren has been trying to woo black voters, who were about 25 percent of those participating in primaries and caucuses in 2016. Her stump speech includes repeated references to the need for racial justice and the harm caused by discrimination.

She has also made several trips to South Carolina, where blacks made up more than 60 percent of the vote in the 2016 primary.

But she has had difficulty attracting black audiences in that state. A town hall she held at a community center that was associated with a black church in Greenville last weekend attracted an audience so white that one reporter asked about the lack of diversity and what she planned to do to speak to more minorities.

“I’m just going to keep coming back,” Warren said. “And I’m going to go to every community I can get to in South Carolina and all around our country.”