After President Donald Trump decided a ceremony honoring Native American veterans of World War II was an appropriate place to refer to Senator Elizabeth Warren as “Pocahontas,” he drew condemnation from lawmakers and indigenous activists and leaders.
Trump was honoring indigenous veterans on Monday who served as “code talkers” who served during World War II, using their native languages to transmit sensitive communications between military units, when he returned to insulting one of his favorite targets. He used the event to lash out at Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren, who he has repeatedly called “Pocahontas” due to her claim of native heritage.
“We have a representative in Congress who has been here for a long time … longer than you. They call her Pocahontas!” Trump said.
Native leaders and activists said the comment “smacks of racism” and the context disregards the status of the historical Pocahontas as a victim of sexual assault and colonialism, which “is deeply offensive and dangerous to the sovereignty of our identity of our peoples,” a Navajo Nation Council delegate said.
Warren’s fellow Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey called the term a racial “slur.”
“It disparages the Native American war heroes, standing right beside the President, who risked their lives to protect his right to make such a disgusting comment,” Markey tweeted.
And on Tuesday, Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona weighed in on the matter. He lamented the politicization of the veterans to whom Trump made the remark about Warren.
“Our nation owes a debt of gratitude to the Navajo Code Talkers, whose bravery, skill & tenacity helped secure our decisive victory over tyranny & oppression during WWII,” McCain said on Twitter. “Politicizing these genuine American heroes is an insult to their sacrifice.”
Our nation owes a debt of gratitude to the Navajo Code Talkers, whose bravery, skill & tenacity helped secure our decisive victory over tyranny & oppression during WWII. Politicizing these genuine American heroes is an insult to their sacrifice.
— John McCain (@SenJohnMcCain) November 28, 2017
A veteran himself, McCain serves as an advocate for current and former military personnel and chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee. Previously, he served as chair of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. McCain has been a frequent critic of the Trump administration, including for its policy banning transgender people from military service.