During World War II, Native Americans invented a secret military code of their own language. These Native Americans, part of the Navajo people, contributed to important military victories such as at Iwo Jima and Saipan. These were called the Navajo Code Talkers.
On Monday, Nov. 27, 2017, at a White House event honoring the living members of the Navajo Code Talkers, President Donald Trump took the opportunity to make a remark to the war veterans which many considered insulting.
“I just want to thank you because you are very, very special people. You were here long before any of us were here,” Trump said. “Although, we have a representative in Congress who has been here a long time […] longer than you. They call her Pocahontas.”
Although Trump’s comment was ambiguous, many believe that he was referring to Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren as Pocahontas. Trump has referred to Warren as Pocahontas in the past, including during a speech to the National Rifle Association in April 2017 and multiple times on Twitter. This is because of Warren’s claims that she has Native American heritage (such claims have not been proven or disproven). Warren responded to Trump’s comment during an interview on MSNBC.
“It is deeply unfortunate that the President of the United States cannot even make it through a ceremony honoring these heroes without having to throw out a racial slur,” Warren said.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders responded to the remark during a press conference.
“I don’t believe that it is appropriate for him [Trump] to make a racial slur […] I don’t think that it is [a racial slur] and I think that was certainly not the President’s intent,” Sanders said.
Native American leaders have had a variety of responses to the President’s insulting comment. Jacqueline Pata, the director of The National Congress of Native Americans, responded to Trump earlier this year when he called Warren Pocahontas during a previous speech.
“We cannot and will not stand silent when our Native ancestors, cultures and histories are used in a derogatory manner for political gain,” Pata said.
Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye also responded to Trump’s comment in a statement put out on Nov. 27.
“The prejudice that Native American people face is an unfortunate historical legacy,” Begaye said. “As Native Americans, we are proud people who have taken care of this land long before there was the United States of America and we will continue to fight for this Nation.”
While the response to Trump’s remark has been mixed, the comment has been met with negativity from many fronts.