Nov 27, 2017 - Politics & Policy
Facts Matter

Why Trump keeps calling Elizabeth Warren "Pocahontas"

Trump revived his derogatory nickname for Sen. Warren today, calling her Pocahontas during a ceremony honoring Native American war heroes. Photos: AP

President Trump brought back his derogatory nickname for Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) today, this time during a ceremony honoring Native American war heroes: "You were here long before any of us were here. Although we have a representative in Congress who they say was here a long time ago. They call her Pocahontas," he said.

Why it matters: Trump cooked up several demeaning nicknames for his opponents and critics during the campaign, from "Lyin' Ted" Cruz and "Lil' Marco" Rubio to "Crooked Hillary" Clinton. But as Warren pointed out, using "Pocahontas" in such a context is considered by some Native Americans to be an ethnic slur.

The facts

How it started

  • In 1996, Harvard Law School touted Warren, then a professor at the university, as being "Native American" in a letter responding to criticism of the school's lack of minority women.
  • In 2012, Scott Brown, the former GOP senator Warren unseated and current ambassador to New Zealand and Samoa, used Warren's self-proclaimed Native American heritage to question her integrity. In 2016, Brown also said Warren should "take a DNA test" if she wants to prove her heritage.
  • Warren defended her claims, telling NPR in 2012 that while growing up in Oklahoma, her family always told her she's part Cherokee. "These are my family stories," she said. "This is our lives. And I'm very proud of it." However she said she didn't have documentation to prove it.
  • Fact-checkers attempted to trace her ancestry, but after several failed attempts the consensus was that there is no documented evidence that she is of Native American heritage. Experts have also noted that any such evidence is difficult to prove to begin with.

How Trump has continued using it

During his presidential campaign, Trump used the controversy to attempt to discredit her criticism of him. Some examples:

  • March 2016, to the NYT: "She's got about as much Indian blood as I have. Her whole life was based on a fraud. She got into Harvard and all that because she said she was a minority."
  • June 2016, on Twitter: "Crooked Hillary is wheeling out one of the least productive senators in the U.S. Senate, goofy Elizabeth Warren, who lied on heritage."
  • June 2016, Trump campaign rally in Virginia: "Pocahontas is not happy, she's not happy. She's the worst. You know, Pocahontas I'm doing such a disservice to Pocahontas, it's so unfair to Pocahontas — but this Elizabeth Warren, I call her 'goofy,' Elizabeth Warren, she's one of the worst senators in the entire United States Senate.

What they're saying

Reaction in 2016

  • Stuart Stevens, chief strategist for Mitt Romney's 2012 presidential campaign, told the Post that Trump's attacks were racist and inappropriate "If you said this in a sixth-grade class, the teacher would tell you, 'Don't say this.'"
  • Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz): "I just don't engage in personal insults — that is a personal insult," he said.
  • Sen. Warren on Twitter: "If you think recycling Scott Brown's hate-filled attacks on my family is going to shut me up, @realDonaldTrump, think again buddy. Weak."
  • Mary Kathryn Nagle, a playwright, attorney and citizen of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma told MSNBC: "Trump's inability to discern the difference between Sen. Warren and Pocahontas is no accident. Instead, his attack on her native identity reflects a dominant American culture that has made every effort to diminish native women to nothing other than a fantastical, oversexualized, Disney character."

Reaction today

  • WH Press Secretary Sarah Sanders Monday: "I think what most people find offensive is Elizabeth Warren lying about her heritage to advance her career
  • Sen. Warren told MSNBC: "It was deeply unfortunate that the President of the United States cannot even make it through a ceremony honoring these heroes without throwing out a racial slur."
  • Rep Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) on Twitter Monday: "Trump calling @SenWarren "Pocahontas" one the 3rd day of #NativeAmericanHeritageMonth proves again how crass & out-of-touch he is w/ Natives."
  • Alliance of Colonial Era Tribes on Twitter: "President Trump decided to deviate from the focus [of the event] to take a swipe at a political opponent ... 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."

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