Trump's Pocahontas remark is 'insulting,' Native American leaders say

KING 5

It was supposed to be a solemn event: the President welcome World War II Navajo "code talkers" to the Oval Office to thank the veterans for his service. 

But in his remarks during the ceremony, President Donald Trump referred to Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren as 'Pocahontas.'

The President has called Warren that on several other occasions. It's a reference to the fact that Warren, originally from Oklahoma, claimed Native American ancestry on a job application.

The comment instantly struck a chord among the Native American community in Western Washington.

"This is the President of the United States of America making derogatory remarks about Native women and I find that deeply disturbing," said Claudia Kauffman.

Kauffman is a former Democratic Washington State Senator who was the first Native American woman elected to the State Senate.  She's also the Intergovernmental Affairs Liaison for the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe.

"I don't want this to be a normal term. To be normalized, to be accepted. That you can just call someone 'Pocahontas'  that's terrible," she said. "It does hit me to the core when that term is used against a Native woman. It's terribly insulting and demeaning."

State Sen. John McCoy, D-Tulalip, had a similar reaction.

"Those comments, from beginning to end, were sheer disrespect to the individuals who were there.  Think about those code talkers. They were dodging bullets, speaking in their language, to be able to protect and help their fellow Marines," said McCoy. "So they worked hard. And then to turn around and disrespect them this way, it's unconscionable."

KING 5 also spoke to Leonard Forsman, chairman of the Suquamish Tribe and president of The Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians.

"I was raised to have respect for our veterans. I was raised to have respect for our elders and ancestors," said Forsman. "What upsets me about it is that there are so many important things that could have been said, and the seriousness and somberness of those people coming to the White House to mark their contributions to this country gets overshadowed by this reference that he's made many times. For whatever reason, the President seems to be obsessed with making this remark."

On Monday night, the veterans who were in the Oval Office for that ceremony released a statement, saying they didn't want to get involved in the political dispute.

But Warren was quick to respond.

"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," said Warren.

During a White House press briefing, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said she did not think the President used a racial slur.  She said Trump meant no offense by his 'Pocahontas' remark and said that what's really offensive is Warren's claim about her heritage.

© 2017 KING-TV


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