Trump’s recent remarks against Elizabeth Warren have been criticized as racist.
Hours after Elizabeth Warren officially announced her 2020 presidential bid, President Trump offered his opinion on his campaign opponent’s announcement with a tweet that critics interpreted as a joke about the Trail of Tears.
“Today Elizabeth Warren, sometimes referred to by me as Pocahontas, joined the race for president,” he wrote in a Feb. 9 tweet. “Will she run as our first Native American presidential candidate, or has she decided that after 32 years, this is not playing so well anymore? See you on the campaign TRAIL, Liz!”
His son Donald Trump Jr. shared the tweet and added, “Savage!!! I love my President.”
Trump has been criticized for using Warren’s claims of a Native American ancestry as a punchline, especially as he frequently refers to her as “Pocahontas.” In January, he mocked her on Twitter by referencing the Wounded Knee Massacre, in which the United States Army killed hundreds of the Lakota Tribe in 1890.
On Jan. 13, he tweeted, “If Elizabeth Warren, often referred to by me as Pocahontas, did this commercial from Bighorn or Wounded Knee instead of her kitchen, with her husband dressed in full Indian garb, it would have been a smash!”
Meanwhile, Warren has battled an ongoing controversy regarding her race. According to The Washington Post, in 1986, Warren listed her race as “American Indian” on a Texas bar registration card. Last October, she revealed the results of her DNA test, showing that she was between 1/64 and 1/1024 Native American. She apologized to Cherokee Nation leaders due to her insensitivity regarding tribal citizenship.
Jennie Stockle, a councilwoman of TU’s Indigenous Society, commented on Warren’s Native American ties. “I’m a Cherokee Nation citizen, and I’m ethnically Cherokee and Creek,” Stockle said. “I can also put names and places on those people in my family — it’s not a faceless identity like a DNA test is.”
She continued, “When critics attack Elizabeth Warren, they are using her Native identity as a vehicle to attack her with, even though the identity is not something she technically possesses.”
The Native American community has responded to President Trump’s race-related insults with indignation. Stockle said that it turns their identity and race into complex political weapons in a battle that does not involve them. The blame is not solely set on one party, as she says it was both the fault of the Republicans and Democrats who dragged Native Americans into this issue.
In a statement regarding Trump’s joke about the Wounded Knee Massacre, Jefferson Keel, the president of the National Congress of American Indians, condemned “in the strongest possible terms, the casual and callous use of these events as part of a political attack.
“Hundreds of Lakota, Cheyenne and Arapaho people lost their lives at the hands of the invading U.S. Army during these events,” he said, “and their memories should not be desecrated as a rhetorical punch line.”
One of the defenses being raised to Trump’s mention of the Trail of Tears is that he is not aware of the historical event. Brit Hume of Fox News, responding to criticism of Trump’s comment, said, “Yes, because Trump is noted for his knowledge of 19th-century American history vis a vis the native population. Jeez.”
However, some, such as Politico reporter Cristiano Lima, suggest that Trump’s allusion to the Trail of Tears was deliberate, given his affinity for former U.S. President Andrew Jackson.
“The semantic argument would be who’s more wrong,” Stockle said. “Personally, I feel angry at both, but I’m probably angrier at Trump because I feel he was most vicious. Is that worse than Elizabeth Warren taking native identity she has no claim to? We can debate that all day.”
Ultimately, Stockle believes that both politicians should stop talking about Native Americans because they use a minority to throw mud at one another. Her community wants no part of this overall issue, and they never asked to be used as a means to a political end. Wounded Knee, the Trail of Tears and other such massacres are deeply ingrained within the memories of Native Americans, and the current debate only draws attention to past injustices.