GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Native Americans and many others across Michigan call the President’s racial slur Monday “disgusting” and a diversion, during the ceremony intended to honor Navajo code talkers and World War II veterans.
The White House ceremony was quickly overshadowed Monday when President Trump called Senator Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas.” At the time he was speaking to Navajo code talkers who were meant to be honored, also standing beneath a portrait of President Andrew Jackson, who signed the Indian Removal Act of 1830 causing mass displacement and death of Native Americans and the Trail of Tears.
“I’ve had the privilege of actually interviewing two different code talkers since I’ve been a journalist, and I just, every time I’m around them, I just feel what an honor just for me to be around them,” said Levi Rickert, publisher of Native News Online, a Potawatomi citizen and journalist.
Rickert interviewed Peter MacDonald, Navajo code talker during WWII from 1944 to 1946 and former chairman of the Navajo Nation, in Muskegon last summer. Monday MacDonald stood next to President Trump during the ceremony he was meant to be honored during.
“Among American Indians we really do think it is a racial slur,” said Rickert of the President’s use of the name Pocahontas.
“American Indians are pretty upset with the fact that he has a picture of Andrew Jackson, and Andrew Jackson among native people is known as the Indian killer president. He is the one that had the Cherokees, Chickasaws, Choctaws removed from the southeast portion of the United States in the Trail of Tears where thousands of people died.”
Rickert’s sentiment is shared widely among the Native community in Michigan.
“The fact that [the President] used Pocahontas or Matoaka, her real name, in that process is horrendous, it’s horrible,” said Julie Dye to FOX 17 Tuesday, a Pokagon Band Potawatomi Nation citizen.
“Matoaka was a child and was raped and kidnapped and ultimately died. It’s just disgusting what he did, he needs to apologize to the Navajo code talkers and he needs to apologize to indigenous people.”
FOX 17 reached out to Congressmen Amash, Huizenga, Upton and the Kent County Republican Committee for comment but has not heard back as of Tuesday evening. Few have defended the President’s actions, including former White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci who in part said: “Listen, you know that’s the President’s style, okay? It’s a little shock jockey. It’s a, listen, I think it’s the style that got him elected. My point is I don’t see it as such a big deal as perhaps you do.”
Many also call this moment a repeated distraction tactic.
“The people involved here were used in that manner also, but there’s an underlying theme of racism with Mr. Trump and sexism,” said Dye.
“[Trump] may have invoked [Senator Warren’s] name because [Monday] morning she was pushing for an individual to head up the Consumer [Financial Protection Bureau] in D.C., that Trump had another guy who actually wants to do away with that,” said Rickert. “And that’s the body that oversees financial institutions in the United States.”
“It’s really important that we are diligent and prudent and get back to what we really need to talk about.”