“I just want to thank you because you’re very, very special people. 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. But you know what? I like you. Because you are special.”
~ President Donald Trump to two WWII veterans and Navajo code talkersI took a trip to the small touristy town of Hot Springs, Arkansas, with my girlfriend last week. One of the first things that stood out to me in that town was the enormous mural of a Quapaw Native American. It spans the length a multi-storied building with a bright yellow background. The Quapaws were one of the major tribes in modern day Arkansas. The state’s name is actually derived from a large Quapaw village named Acansa, according to native-languages.org.
My mom claims our family is part Blackfoot. A strong Cherokee chief is also a powerful American mythos in my family (and other families, I’m told). Though I do not identify with the culture. I am white. I never lived on a reservation. I was even bullied by some of the Native kids at my junior high school. However, I have a great appreciation and respect for Native American people. I grew up a stone’s throw from the Suquamish reservation in Washington state. I have friends and cousins who are Suquamish, Lummi, Shoshone, Cherokee and Menominee, among others. I’m not qualified to be their voice, but I will speak out against the obvious ignorance and lack of empathy for Native peoples by President Donald Trump.
I don’t care how many ways you dice it, Trump used a racial slur when he called Sen. Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas.” To be clear: THIS IS NOT ABOUT WARREN. This is about decency and respect for Native Americans; people who have more right than ANYBODY to trod the soil we call America.
What the president said is wrong and here is a brief list why:
- He used a Native American name to belittle somebody.
- Again, HE USED A NATIVE AMERICAN NAME TO BELITTLE SOMEBODY.
- He did this in front of two Native American WWII veterans.
- He used a moment honoring Native Americans for a political jab.
- The senator’s genealogy is not the president’s business.
I won’t mention that the slur was used under the gaze of President Andrew “Kill-All-the-Indians” Jackson’s portrait (although I just kinda did).
Here’s the National Congress of American Indians response following the slur.
“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,” stated NCAI President Jefferson Keel after the incident. “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.”
What Trump proves – relentlessly, I might add – is that he doesn’t really care about people who aren’t white. This is evident in his address to “the blacks”; in his “I love Hispanics!” Twitter photo whilst eating a taco bowl; and more recently with his “Pocahontas” namecalling (a nickname he has used on more than one occasion). Trump does not see 2 percent of the U.S. population who identify as Native American as a vital voting bloc. At least, not vital enough to treat them like decent people.
I am an objective person. I am a news reporter. I always look for both sides of a story. But there is no excuse for this.
(If you’re interested, here is a link to some original recordings from Mary Maude Angel, “Grandma Supernaw,” from the ’60s. Her father was the last hereditary chief of the Quapaw tribe. I am super glad someone had the foresight to record these interviews back then.)