Historical contribution of Native American Code Talkers is invaluable, cultural insensitivity is unfortunate.

During an event at the White House on November 27 honoring Native American Code Talkers who used their indigenous languages to encode American military communications during World Wars I and II, President Donald Trump made reference to U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren as “Pocahontas.” The remark prompted immediate backlash.

“First and foremost, we appreciate the honor and recognition that has been bestowed upon the Navajo Code Talkers, who truly are National Treasures and protectors of freedom,” Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye said. “It was our Code Talkers that ensured the freedom of the United States and that’s what is important to remember here.”

The reference to Senator Warren as “Pocahontas” is a part of an ongoing feud between the senator and President Trump over statements Warren had made to have Native American heritage during her Senate campaign.

“In this day and age, all tribal nations still battle insensitive references to our people. The prejudice that Native American people face is an unfortunate historical legacy,” President Begaye said. “As Native Americans, we are proud people who have taken care of this land long before there was the United States of America and we will continue to fight for this Nation.”

President Begaye said the Navajo Nation does not want to engage in this dialogue between Sen. Warren and President Trump. The purpose of the November 27 event was to honor all Native American Code Talkers who used their native languages to encode sensitive messages and protect U.S. wartime communications.

Navajo Nation Council Delegate Amber Kanazbah Crotty released a more detailed statement about the November 27 comment that has since gone viral across social media, speaking out against the latest instance of ignorance:

“Today’s careless comment from President Trump is the latest example of systemic, deep-seated ignorance of Native Americans and our intrinsic right to exist and practice our ways of life. The intentional disregard of the historical trauma of Pocahontas as a sexual assault survivor directly resulting from colonization is disturbing.

“The Navajo People are not strangers to the prejudice, discrimination, and marginalization perpetrated by western culture. Our women and children are targets of violence. We must speak out against such ignorance in every instance, in hopes for a better future for our children and our land.

“I must respond to White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ flat-out denial of this racial slur, dismissing the tangible and egregious impact pejoratives have on Indigenous people. I must respond to President Trump’s remark today referencing Pocahontas. With due respect, it is problematic for the president to use this term in the manner we heard today. It diminishes the experience of Pocahontas and is totally inappropriate. The reckless appropriation of this term is deeply offensive and dangerous to the sovereignty and identity of our peoples. Such rhetoric is damaging, and it a serious infringement of our right to live as Native Americans.

“The Navajo Code Talkers are not pawns to advance a personal grudge, or promote false narratives. Such pandering dishonors the sacrifice of our national heroes. Let me be clear, such antics do not change the fact of history. Indigenous peoples’ disparate socioeconomic issues are a direct result of this false narrative, and we cannot sit idly by as the citizens of the United States and our Indigenous children are gas-lighted from this terrible truth.

“We honor and respect the Navajo Code Talkers, and we are proud of their sacrifice. Let us not allow this display of immaturity and short-sightedness distract us from the important issues we advocate for collectively as sovereign nations on this continent, but continue to advance the cause and secure the future of Indigenous people in America.”

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Image courtesy of the Navajo Nation Office of the President and Vice President / Susan Walsh