Members of the Navajo Nation are excoriating Donald Trump for mockingly referring to a political adversary as “Pocahontas” during a White House event.
During an event honouring Navajo code talkers, who drew on their native language to help the US military send coded communications during World War II, Mr Trump referenced a “representative in Congress…they call her “Pocahontas”.”
The President has turned the name “Pocahontas” into an insulting nickname for Massachusetts Democrat Elizabeth Warren, who has faced pushback for referencing her slight Native American ancestry. His decision to derisively invoke a celebrated Native American at an event honouring Native Americans swiftly drew condemnations from Navajo people.
Navajo National Council Delegate Amber Kanazbah Crotty blasted the President’s remarks as “the latest example of systemic, deep-rooted ignorance of Native Americans”.
“The reckless appropriation of this term is deeply offensive and dangerous to the sovereignty and identity of our peoples”, she said, adding that “The Navajo Code Talkers are not pawns to advance a personal grudge, or promote false narratives”.
Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye was more reserved, saying his people had no interest in wading into a political dispute and noting in a statement that “all tribal nations still battle insensitive references to our people”. But family members of Navajo Code Talkers reacted with disbelief.
“It was uncalled for,” Marty Thompson, the great-nephew of a code talker, told the Associated Press. “He can say what he wants when he’s out doing his presidential business among his people, but when it comes to honoring veterans or any kind of people, he needs to grow up and quit saying things like that.”
Michael Nez, the son of a prominent code talker, told the AP that “It’s too bad he does put his foot in his mouth”.
“Why he does it? I don’t know,” Mr Nez said.
The White House has tried to tamp down the outrage, with White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders saying “what most people find offensive is Senator Warren lying about her heritage to advance her career”. Ms Warren has repeatedly denied having invoked her heritage for personal gain.
“I think that’s a ridiculous response,” Ms Sanders told reporters.