The White House is denying President Donald Trump uttered a racial slur during an Oval Office event Monday honoring some Native American military veterans.
“I don’t think that it is and that certainly not was the president’s intent,” replied Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders when asked about Trump again referring to Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren as “Pocahontas,” the name of the famous reputed daughter of an early 17th century tribal chief.
During an event to honor World War II code talkers from the Navajo tribe, Trump, in an ad-libbed remark, told the five elderly Marine Corps veterans “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 repeatedly called Warren by that name during his successful campaign for the presidency, saying she had lied about her genealogy.
Warren, in the past, had said her mother was “part Cherokee and part Delaware,” but acknowledged no documentation for her lineage.
Having proof of even a trace of Native American or other minority lineage in the United States can allow someone to claim preferred status in college and job applications.
“I think what most people find offensive is Senator Warren lying about her heritage to advance her career,” retorted Sanders amid several questions on the subject at the daily press briefing just after Trump’s controversial repeating of the remark.
“It is deeply unfortunate that the President of the United States cannot even make it through a ceremony honoring these heroes without having to throw out a racial slur,” responded Warren when asked about Trump’s remarks during an live interview on the MSNBC cable television channel.
“We regret that the President’s use of the name Pocahontas as a slur to insult a political adversary is overshadowing the true purpose of today’s White House ceremony,” says Jefferson Keel, the president of the National Congress of American Indians.
“We honor the contributions of Pocahontas, a hero to her people, the Pamunkey Indian Tribe in Virginia, who reached across uncertain boundaries and brought people together,” added Keel, who is a U.S. Army officer and Vietnam War combat veteran. “Once again, we call upon the president to refrain from using her name in a way that denigrates her legacy.”
U.S. Senator John McCain reacted on Tuesday.
Also upsetting to some was that the event took place under the gaze of President Andrew Jackson, whose portrait Trump has placed in the Oval Office.
Jackson, in 1830, signed the Indian Removal Act, which led to thousands of Native Americans being forced off their sovereign lands.
At Monday’s event, part of National Native American Heritage Month, Trump lavished praise on the code talkers, who all are now in their 90s.
“You are special people, you are really incredible people,” the president said.
The code talkers, little known for decades after the war, until their mission was eventually declassified, first saw combat in August 1942 during the Pacific battle at Guadalcanal.
Using code words for military jargon, such as “turtle” for “tank,” these Marines used only Navajo language as a secure means of communication.
“Well, three weeks after the landing, General Van De Griff, Commander of the 1st Marine Division, sent word back to United States saying, ‘this Navajo code is terrific,’” recalled Peter MacDonald, who heads the group of surviving code talkers. “’The enemy never understood it,’ he said at Monday’s ceremony, ‘we don't understand it either, but it works. Send us some more Navajos.’”
Eventually there were 400 Native American code talkers and 600 code words.
“Their ability to outwit the Japanese who were listening to this wonderful language and had no idea that a language like this existed on the Earth,” said White House Chief of Staff John Kelly.
Kelly, a retired Marine Corps general, noted that during the invasion of Iwo Jima, the Marines lost 6,000 men and saw another 25,000 wounded during 28 days of battle against the Japanese.
“It would have been a lot worse had we not had the Navajo code talkers,” said Kelly.