With a speech delivered at the National Congress of American Indians on Wednesday morning, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) told the gathering of Native Americans that she will not allow President Donald Trump's racist attack on her heritage to be a smear against her, but will instead do her best to use such attacks to uplift the proud traditions—as well as the historic struggles—of North America's indigenous tribes and communities.
Addressing directly how the president referred to her as 'Pocahontas' during a White House ceremony last year, Warren said that she is proud of her Native American roots.
"Let's talk about Pocahontas. Not Pocahontas, the fictional character most Americans know from the movies, but Pocahontas, the Native woman who really lived, and whose real story has been passed down to so many of you through the generations."
—Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.)"I've noticed that every time my name comes up, President Trump likes to talk about Pocahontas," she said. "So I figured, let's talk about Pocahontas. Not Pocahontas, the fictional character most Americans know from the movies, but Pocahontas, the Native woman who really lived, and whose real story has been passed down to so many of you through the generations."
The mythology around Pocahontas, said Warren, is one that "has been taken away by powerful people who twisted it to serve their own purposes. The fable is used to bleach away the stain of genocide. As you know, Pocahontas's real journey was far more remarkable — and far darker — than the myth admits."
Why denouncing the president's clear intent to use the name as a racist slur and a smear against her and Native Americans more broadly—with many in the right-wing media echo chamber happy to play along—Warren said she does not intend to submit to those designs.
"I'm here today to make a promise," Warren told the audience, according to a transcript first published in the Boston Globe on Wednesday. "Every time someone brings up my family's story, I'm going to use it to lift up the story of your families and your communities."
In her remarks, Warren explained that there are many neglected stories of Native Americans—stories of resilience, contributions, hope, and the "pride and the determination of people who refuse to let their languages fade away and their cultures die." But she also made clear there are other, darker stories that also go untold. Warren stated:
The story of our country's mistreatment of your communities. And this isn't just a story about casual racism – war whoops and tomahawk chops and insulting Facebook memes.
It's a story about discrimination and neglect — the unmet health care needs of Native children and families, the alarmingly high rate of suicide among Native teenagers, the growing opioid crisis and the broader epidemic of substance abuse that has ravaged so many Native communities.
It's a story about greed. For generations — Congress after Congress, president after president — the government robbed you of your land, suppressed your languages, put your children in boarding schools and gave your babies away for adoption. It has stolen your resources and, for many tribal governments, taken away the opportunity to grow and prosper for the good of your people.
Even today, politicians in Washington want to let their Big Oil buddies pad their profits by encroaching on your land and fouling your rivers and streams. Meanwhile, even as the economic future of your communities hangs in the balance, they want to cut nutrition assistance, cut Medicaid, and cut other programs that many Native families rely on to survive.
It's a story about violence. It is deeply offensive that this president keeps a portrait of Andrew Jackson hanging in the Oval Office, honoring a man who did his best to wipe out Native people. But the kind of violence President Jackson and his allies perpetrated isn't just an ugly chapter in a history book. Violence remains part of life today. The majority of violent crimes experienced by Native Americans are perpetrated by non-Natives, and more than half — half — of Native women have experienced sexual violence.
The miscasting of history, as well as the ongoing mistreatment of Native America tribes and communities, said Warren, must come to and end.
"This must stop," she concluded. "And I promise I will fight to help write a different story."