It is difficult to even decide where to begin in writing a comment about the recent racist slur uttered by President Donald Trump at a ceremony that was supposed to honor three surviving Navajo veterans of World War II.
These heroes, like members of other tribes including the Lakota, served as communications aides for American forces in the war, as had Cherokee and Choctaw tribesmen in World War I. Despite discrimination and racism, Native Americans have always served with distinction in the military, honoring their country and their elders.
Photo credit: screengrab from CNN video
Did these Navajo veterans deserve to be forced to stand and listen to the President of the U.S., Donald Trump, impugn a political opponent (Senator Elizabeth Warren, whose family history includes a probable Native American connection) with a mocking reference to her as "Pocahontas?" Was the final recognition of their service to have a famous Native American figure from the earliest days of white "colonization" used in a disrespectful, derisive manner for political attack?
When this writer first heard of this disgusting comment, he was torn between feeling guilt and shame as a fellow Caucasian (like Trump) to sadly reflecting that the European invasion and conquest of North America began a genocide against Native Americans that continues to the present day. From the first seizures of native lands to the Trail of Tears (initiated by one of Trump's heroes, Andrew Jackson) to passing out smallpox-infected blankets to the many massacres, to the sad modern record of ignoring the desperate plight of many Native Americans struggling to survive on the reservations, it seems like the genocide has no ending.
As an ongoing injustice, racists persist in slurs and attacks. From the derisive comment Trump made to the insensitive naming of sports teams to the beer poured on Lakota elementary school students at a hockey game in Rapid City, South Dakota to the cynical exploitation of Lakota at beer stores in Whiteclay, Nebraska, and on, and on: the utter lack of shame, guilt, and misunderstanding directed toward Native Americans by many of their fellow American citizens is dumbfounding.
While our One Spirit supporters clearly have a different point of view and donate money, food, clothing and more to help the Lakota help themselves to a better life while respecting their traditional culture, the actions and statements by some of our white brethren have to give us pause, and make us dedicate ourselves to trying to educate those who have so much hate.
For the record, Pocahontas was a daughter of Powhatan (Chief of a large alliance of Algonquian-speaking tribes). She aided the Jamestown colonists (possibly saving the life of John Smith) and, despite being taken prisoner in the first war with the colonists (over land claims), ended up marrying John Rolfe, which brought about a peaceful period called the "Peace of Pocahontas." She eventually went to England with her husband, where she died and is buried. She is thus a symbol of an early attempt at peaceful coexistence. What in that justifies the President, over 300 years later, to use her name as a joking slur intended to belittle someone?
Gyasi Ross, a Blackfoot Nation member and Editor at Large for Indian Country Media Network recently recalled the time when Trump claimed his casinos were losing money because casinos on Native American lands were taking advantage (keying another of his slurs, "They don't look Indian"). Ross stated clearly in an interview that someone like Trump had no right to even mention the name of Pocahontas, least of all as a derisive comment. He added, “I think we have to be very clear, Donald Trump is a symbol for an antiquated, outdated mode of thought that unfortunately still exists.”
I would say that is almost being too reasonable and even-handed.
Like the lyric from the song, Where Have All the Flowers Gone goes, "When will they ever learn, oh when will they ever learn?"
Thank you, all of our One Spirit family, for being who you are and standing strong for the Lakota. Let us renew our efforts to educate those in need of it, and to redouble our dedication to making some amends for people who are too blind to see beyond their own hatred and insecurity.
The frequent expressions of hate by the President and many others, should serve as a reminder to all of us to examine our own prejudices and work with all people of good will for a better world.
(Comment by volunteer, Jim Drevescraft)