President Donald Trump has referred to US Senator Elizabeth Warren as “Pocahontas” at a ceremony to honour Native Americans who helped win World War II on Monday.
“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,” Trump said to the “code talkers”, Native Americans who used their languages such as Navajo, Choctaw and Seminole to transmit sensitive military plans that US enemies could not translate.
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Though the term “code talkers” is most closely associated with the Navajo men honoured on Monday for their service in World War II, Native Americans of various tribes were instrumental in securing US victories in both world wars through the use of their languages.
Pocahontas is a reference to a teenage Native American who, according to historical anecdote, saved the life of one of the first English colonists in present-day Virginia.
Pocahontas’ story is popular in the US, especially after Disney produced a 1995 animated film based on historical legend.
Trump has used the name to disparage Warren, a Democrat from Massachusetts known for her consumer protection policies. Warren claimed in the past that she was 1/32 Cherokee, though this was based on stories told to her by her parents and grandparents.
Warren was a professor at Harvard Law School and was counted as a “Native American” by former spokesperson Mike Chmura when asked about the lack of diversity in the school’s faculty.
“Goofy Elizabeth Warren, sometimes referred to as Pocahontas, pretended to be a Native American in order to advance her career. Very racist!” Trump tweeted in 2016.
Trump last used the term to describe Warren on November 3, a few days into National Native American Heritage Month.
The use of Pocahontas is controversial among Native Americans, some of whom think Disney’s portrayal and use of the historical figure are degrading.
Al Jazeera contacted the Cherokee Nation for comment on Trump’s use of the term in front of the Native American veterans, but requests were not immediately returned.