President Donald Trump makes ‘Pocahontas slur’ at event for Native Americans

US leader makes jibe at Democrat using offensive nickname during an event honouring Second World War Navajo code talkers

Trump Navajo
(Image credit: Getty Images)

President Donald Trump has caused controversy at an event honouring Native American war veterans by referring to a Democratic senator Elizabeth Warren as “Pocahontas”.

The comment, described as a “slur” by Native American groups in the past, was “made during a speech at the White House to celebrate Navajo code talkers who served during the Second World War,” says Sky News.

Standing in front of a portrait of former President Andrew Jackson - himself controversial for his treatment of Native Americans - Trump said: “I just want to thank you because you’re very, very special people.”

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It came after what The Atlantic described as “a characteristically vague and nearly meaningless description of the role played by the men, who during World War II served in the Marines, using native languages as a code that the Japanese couldn’t break.”

Then Trump added: “You were here long before any of us were here, although we have a representative in Congress who, they say, was here a long time ago. They call her ‘Pocahontas.’”

After making the crack, Trump turned to one of the Navajo code talkers and said: “But you know what? I like you. Because you are special. You are special people, you are really incredible people.”

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Trump has repeatedly mocked Warren over her claim of Cherokee ancestry by calling her Pocahontas.

“I think he definitely says it as a slur,” Jacqueline Pata, executive director of the National Congress of American Indians told The New York Times. “No matter how he feels about Elizabeth Warren, to throw that out there is disrespectful to real Native Americans.”

“While he means to belittle Warren, they feel that it is also belittling to them,” says The Atlantic.

“The nickname insults the original Pocahontas, a tragic figure who was kidnapped, and then later traveled to England with her husband John Rolfe, where she died; it conflates Pocahontas’s Powhatan heritage with other groups; and it is frequently used to mock Native Americans.”

The White House “disputed that characterisation and blamed the senator for not being forthright about her ancestry,” says The Guardian.

“I think what most people find offensive is Senator Warren lying about her heritage to advance her career,” Sarah Sanders, the White House press secretary said yesterday.

Challenged over Warren’s description of it as a “racial slur”, Sanders replied: “I think that’s a ridiculous response.”

Trump also came under criticism for “holding the ceremony honoring the Navajo code talkers in the Oval Office, where he has hung a large portrait of Jackson, who in 1830 signed the Indian Removal Act that led to the forced removal, relocation and deaths of thousands of Native Americans from the American South,” adds The Guardian.

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