Pocahontas and the President

posted Nov 27, 2017, 1:41 PM by John Norwood   [ updated Nov 27, 2017, 1:43 PM ]
submitted by Dr. J.R. Norwood, ACET General Secretary

In a ceremony at the White House honoring Native Code talkers, who are known to have been vital to the success and victory in World War II (and a lesser known fact is that code talkers even were used to aid the victory in World War I), President Trump decided to deviate from the focus on their valiant service to take a swipe at a political opponent, once again making a reference to Senator Elizabeth Warren as "Pocahontas" (see link below).  After his initial use of this reference during his campaign, numerous American Indian organizations denounced the manner in which the name was used. There are some who ignored the response from Indian Country and defended Mr. Trump, both then and now, with the excuse that the name "Pocahontas" is not a racial slur. When honorably referencing the actual historic figure, this indeed is true. However, the name becomes a derogatory racial reference when used as an insult. American Indian names, whether they be historic or contemporary, are not meant to be used as insults.  To do so is to reduce them to racial slurs. There are many in Indian Country who have given various perspectives on Senator Warren's claim of an American Indian ancestor. There are many non-tribal Americans who make similar claims of indigenous ancestry. Sometimes it is a matter of documented genealogical fact and sometimes it's merely a matter of family lore. Such private claims, when not used to claim the legal protections or benefits of the citizens of American Indian Nations, cause little or no harm to tribal people. However, degrading an American Indian name or historic tribal reference by using it as an insult is making a racial slur, whether knowingly or unknowingly. The right to determine if it is a slur belongs to those who have been insulted, not the one who made the insult.  The appropriate and mature response when one is made aware of such an insult to an entire race of people is to apologize and to not do it again. An even better response after the apology is to try to understand and learn more of the proud heritage of the people that were insulted and why the manner in which you used the reference may be viewed as an insult.  Such a response would unite instead of divide.  It would heal instead of hurt.  This is a "teachable moment" that could be transformed into something positive, if America and its president are willing to learn.  We can only hope.

- Trump calls Warren 'Pocahontas' at event honoring Native Americans http://nbcnews.to/2zJNqjn
- World News Tonight (@ABCWorldNews) tweeted at 2:52 PM on Mon, Nov 27, 2017: MOMENTS AGO: Pres. Trump at White House event honoring Navajo code talkers, makes joke about "Pocahontas" Sen. Elizabeth Warren. https://t.co/PgdhbxBrfT
(https://twitter.com/ABCWorldNews/status/935234798045446144?s=09)
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