Trump's 'Pocahontas' swipe raises the long history of problems between the government and Native Americans

Jaweed Kaleem, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Political News

When President Donald Trump called Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren "Pocahontas" this week during a ceremony honoring Navajo war veterans, he didn't just ignite a controversy over whether he used a racial slur against an opponent.

Trump also reopened a broader conversation about the federal government's uneasy relationship with, and abusive treatment of, Native Americans. It's a history that included mass killings and efforts to strip tribes of their land, language and culture. More recently conflicts have shifted to cultural and legal fights over property rights, mascots and casinos.

"Trump is not alone in making insensitive comments or doing insensitive or downright horrible things that hurt American Indians," said the Rev. John Norwood, general secretary of the Alliance of Colonial Era Tribes. "There is a growing awareness of the history of indigenous Americans, but the insensitivity toward them still is incredibly prevalent."

Norwood added that Native American groups haven't always been on the losing end, especially in recent years in legal battles and cultural protests they have waged. "But unlike all other Americans, we are not immigrants, and yet we feel it's often an uphill fight for us in our own land."

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said it was "ridiculous" to think the president meant to insult anybody but the Massachusetts senator. But Warren -- who says she has Cherokee heritage -- and groups including the National Congress of American Indians and the Alliance of Colonial Era Tribes doubled down on critiques of the president.

Native American representatives said the back-and-forth over Trump's words stung especially because they're part of a long history of actions by the U.S. government and political officials that have continued to hit a nerve.



After Trump honored a small group of Navajo men Monday at the White House for their work as code talkers with the U.S. Marines during World War II, Native American groups noted that he did it as he stood in front of a painting of President Andrew Jackson.

Jackson, who was president from 1829 to 1837, is known for signing the Indian Removal Act, which forced more than 60,000 Native Americans to relocate from their homelands in the Southeast to areas west of the Mississippi River. Cherokees, who were among those who endured what was called the Trail of Tears, called Jackson the "Indian killer."

While Native American groups widely noted the odd contrast of Trump and Navajo honorees near a painting of Jackson, at least one Native American present said he was not bothered.


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