During a White House event to honor surviving Navajo code talkers, President Donald Trump took the opportunity to use the name of Pocahontas of the Pamunkey Indian Tribe in Virginia to continue his ongoing dispute with Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and his trend of disrespecting women.
Trump and the three men representing hundreds of Native American code talkers who served during World Wars I and II communicating top-secret coded messages during battles stood in the Oval Office in front of a portrait of President Andrew "Indian Killer" Jackson.
Jackson spent years leading brutal campaigns against the Creeks in Alabama and Georgia and the Seminoles in Florida. As a result, hundreds of thousands of acres of land were transferred from Indian nations to white farms. As president he signed the Indian Removal Act of 1830, resulting in massive deaths of Native Americans.
"You were here long before any of us were here," Trump said to the men, who are in their 90s. "Although we have a representative in Congress who they say was here a long time ago. They call her Pocahontas."
"Pocahontas" was a reference to Warren. He continued, "But you know what, I like you. Because you are special. You are special people. You are really incredible people."
National Congress of American Indians President Jefferson Keel, a decorated U.S. Army officer and Vietnam War combat veteran, said Monday that Trump's "use of the name Pocahontas as a slur to insult a political adversary" overshadowed the true purpose of the White House ceremony.
"Today was about recognizing the remarkable courage and invaluable contributions of our Native code talkers," Keel said in a statement. "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 also made clear that Pocahontas was not to be disrespected.
"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," he said. "Once again, we call upon the president to refrain from using her name in a way that denigrates her legacy."
Trump, who just this weekend denied the validity of the infamous recording where he bragged about grabbing women by the genitalia, began publicly disrespecting the two women, Pocahontas and Warren, on the presidential campaign trail.
"Hillary Clinton has somebody — did you ever hear of Pocahontas?" Trump said in May 2016 at a rally in Albuquerque, New Mexico. "It's Pocahontas — Elizabeth Warren."
"She said she was an Indian," Trump continued. "She said because her cheekbones were high, she was an Indian, that she was Native American.
"She is probably the senator that's doing just about the least in the United States Senate," he added. "She's a total failure."
Questions regarding Warren's ancestry arose in 2012, at which time it became public that Warren self-identified as Native American. Warren received criticism because no evidence could be found to substantiate her claim. But Warren has stated that she is "proud" of her heritage: "These are my family stories," Warren said at the time of the controversy.
In an interview Monday afternoon with NBC New York, Warren referred to Trump's comment as a "racial slur."
"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," she said.
"Donald Trump does this over and over thinking somehow he's gonna shut me up with it. It hasn't worked in the past, it is not gonna work in the future."
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders disputed the characterization of Trump's remark as a racial slur.
"I think what most people find offensive is Senator Warren lying about her heritage to advance her career," Sanders told reporters.
Trump's comment on Monday immediately trended on social media. The word "Pocahontas" appeared 12 times on Twitter every second, according to social media analytics company Zoomph, Reuters reports.
The American Civil Liberties Union tweeted:
This shouldn't have to be said: Mocking our nation's first inhabitants— in front of a portrait of Andrew Jackson— is not how you honor Native American code talkers. https://t.co/iL9wWXKzIY
— ACLU (@ACLU) November 27, 2017