WASHINGTON, D.C. - November 30, 2017 - As America concludes Native American Heritage Month and successful celebrations around the country honoring Native American Heritage Day, it is profoundly disappointing that we join our Native American brothers and sisters in expressing our disapproval of President Trump's derogatory use of the name "Pocahontas" at a White House event honoring the Navajo Nation Code Talkers.
In a ceremony that was to honor the Navajo Nation's Code Talkers of World War II, the President used the occasion to disparage a political opponent by referencing one of Indian Country's historic icons. The discourteous and disrespectful treatment of the Navajo Code Talkers, whose heroic and historic role in this nation's victory of World War II should have been the sole focus of the event.
"The use of 'Pocahontas' name to demean a political opponent transformed a solemn event honoring a group of true warriors from Indian Country into an awkward, embarrassing experience for all concerned," said NIGA Chairman Ernie Stevens, Jr.
A citizen of the Algonquin Tribal confederation in Virginia, Pocahontas lived a short, extraordinary life during a period that for Native Americans was characterized by enslavement, dispossession, physical conflict, assimilation, and death from European diseases. She was one of the first true ambassadors from Indian Country to meet with foreigners arriving on these shores and she managed to persevere and become a cultural icon despite her young age. Her story for centuries was re-told as a parody, stereotype, or worse, but rarely truthfully. Defining our hero's as stereotypes allows America's Fairy Tale to resonate contrary to the truthful and factual genocide that was taking place. Tribes and Tribal organizations have been trying to erase the stereotype of "Pocahontas" as well as all Indian stereotypes that too often falsely defined our history in this country.
Pocahontas was a young, Native woman that had a resoundingly positive impact on the early race relations in this country and beyond. She served as an Ambassador between our Nations and helped us acknowledge the importance of mutual respect and understanding. For her strong belief and commitment to the noble principles of humanity, Pocahontas has been recognized by Native people as a hero. She carried the Native values of respect and appreciation for all of Creation and was recognized from the 1600's to present time. The legacy she left behind was as strong as any other historic American figure and it is this legacy for which she should be remembered.
In addition to the verbal degradation of Pocahontas, the President made the portrait of Andrew Jackson front and center to the Code Talkers' "honoring". Jackson proposed and signed the "Indian Removal Act" into law in 1830. The Act led to the forced removal of dozens of south and eastern Indian tribes from their homelands to lands west of the Mississippi. These "Trails of Tears" led to the deaths of tens of thousands of Indian men, women, and children. The inhumane acts of President Jackson were horrific for Indian Country and on the same level of many acts of genocide in world history. Forcing our greatest American warriors to pose in front of this portrait is insensitive and intolerable.
In Indian Country, our challenge, historically, has been educating each new Presidential Administration and Congress on Tribal Sovereignty, the federal trust responsibility and the role of Tribal Governments in our federalist democracy. Unfortunately, the President's insulting use of a historic tribal citizen sets back a significant investment made by Indian Country in educating this Administration over the past year. To observe the President disrespect elder Navajo Veterans, knowingly or unknowingly, is disheartening. While we are taken back by this incident and we are disappointed we will continue working with this Administration in earnest and will urge the President to stand by the message in his recent Proclamation.
Only one week ago, in the Presidential Proclamation Of November 2017 as Native American Heritage Month, the President proclaimed that "Native Americans are a testament to the deep importance of culture and vibrancy of traditions, passed down throughout generations." The President went on further to say, "This month, I encourage all of our citizens to learn about the rich history and culture of the Native American people."
"The National Indian Gaming Association joins our sister organizations in conveying our displeasure in the President's derogatory use of 'Pocahontas' and call upon him to honor his strong proclamation in praise of our Native American Heritage," said Chairman Stevens. "President Trump should issue an apology to the Navajo Nation Code Talkers and to all of Indian Country whom he was supposed to be honoring. We call upon the President to honor Pocahontas and acknowledge her legacy as a true American hero and to refrain from belittling her name."
As the President proclaimed: "A great Nation keeps its word, and this Administration will continue to uphold and defend its responsibilities to American Indians and Alaska Natives. The United States is stronger when Indian Country is healthy and prosperous." This is a sentiment all of Indian Country can rally around and we call upon the President to keep his word and work with Indian Country to help make America a better Country for all its citizens.