President Donald Trump was taken to task by a Native American group on Monday, after referring to Sen. Elizabeth Warren as “Pocahontas” while honoring a group of Native American veterans in the Oval Office on Monday.
In a statement published to the National Congress of American Indians’ website, the organization’s president, Jefferson Keel, said that the crack was both detrimental to the purpose of the meeting and denigrating to the legacy of Pocahontas.
“We regret that the President’s use of the name Pocahontas as a slur to insult a political adversary is overshadowing the true purpose of today’s White House ceremony,” Keel, a decorated U.S. Army officer and Vietnam War combat veteran, said. “Today was about recognizing the remarkable courage and invaluable contributions of our Native code talkers. That’s who we honor today and everyday — the three code talkers present at the White House representing the 10 other elderly living code talkers who were unable to join them, and the hundreds of other code talkers from the Cherokee, Choctaw, Comanche, Lakota, Meskwaki, Mohawk, Navajo, Tlingit, and other tribes who served during World Wars I and II.”
“We also honor the service and bravery of all of our veterans and those currently serving from Indian Country. Native people serve in the Armed Forces at a higher rate than any other group in the country, and have served in every war in this nation’s history,” Keel continued.
“You were here long before any of us were here,” Trump said to the Navajo Code Talkers, who used a code to communicate messages during WWII, during Monday’s White House event. “Although we have a representative in Congress who they say was here a long time ago. They call her Pocahontas.”
“But you know what? I like you,” Trump added, patting the shoulder of one of the veterans.
“And we honor the contributions of Pocahontas, a hero to her people, the Pamunkey Indian Tribe in Virginia, who reached across uncertain boundaries and brought people together. Once again, we call upon the President to refrain from using her name in a way that denigrates her legacy,” Keel continued in Monday’s statement.
The group has called out Trump for invoking Pocahontas’ name while referencing Warren in the past. In May, NCAI executive director Jacqueline Pata took the president to task for doing so during an NRA address.
“NCAI is a bi-partisan organization that works equitably with both sides of the political aisle, and it is not our common practice to comment on the partisan name calling that has come to dominate American politics,” Pata said at the time. “But we cannot and will not stand silent when our Native ancestors, cultures, and histories are used in a derogatory manner for political gain.”
Trump came under fire Monday after making the remark. White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders also caught flak for denying that Trump’s comment was a racial slur, saying, “I think that’s a ridiculous response” and that “it certainly was not the president’s intent” during Monday’s White House press briefing.
“Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters in White House daily press briefing that saying Pocahontas is NOT a racial slur!” one critic tweeted. “THAT is a KKK talking point, btw.”
“Calling Elizabeth Warren ‘Pocahontas’ is very offensive and certainly intended as a racial slur. Trump is a racist. Huckabee Sanders is lying for a racist,” read another criticism.