Republican U.S. Senate candidate Leah Vukmir, R-Brookfield, forwarded a press release to The Badger Herald Friday titled “Pocahontas Campaigns With Tomah Tammy,” referencing Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s, D-Massachusetts, visit to Wisconsin last week.
The release referred to Warren as “Elizabeth ‘Pocahontas’ Warren” throughout, echoing President Donald Trump, who has repeatedly called Warren “Pocahontas” in reference to her claims of Native American ancestry.
Warren has consistently backed up her claims about her Native American ancestry with family stories, and in October Warren shared the results of a DNA test, which confirmed the distant Native American ancestry.
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While Warren released proof of her distant Native American ancestry recently — the merits of which may be debated in a different op-ed — Trump began using the nickname in his 2016 campaign and has used it at various points of his presidency.
When Trump used the “Pocahontas” nickname in a November 2017 speech at a White House event honoring Native American veterans, several Native American organizations criticized his use of the name as a means to insult Warren.
“The reference is using a historic American Indian figure as a derogatory insult and that’s insulting to all American Indians,” John Norwood, general secretary of the Alliance of Colonial Era Tribes, said.
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He went on to add that Trump should “stop using our historical people of significance as a racial slur against one of his opponents.”
The National Congress of American Indians President Jefferson Keel echoed Norwood’s statement, saying the organization regretted that Trump’s use of the name Pocahontas as a slur and insult overshadowed the White House ceremony, which was intended to thank Native code talkers for their service during World War II.
Using “Pocahontas” as an insult generalizes diverse populations of Native Americans across the U.S. with a single historical figure and reinforces the notion that Native Americans don’t have a place in contemporary society.
In this way, Trump’s racist rhetoric perpetuates irreverent beliefs about who belongs in American society and who does not. This is inexcusable at any time, but most of all today and every day moving forward.
So why would Vukmir — a candidate running in a state with strong historical background and present-day ties to Native American communities — choose to echo Trump’s offensive use of the name “Pocahontas” to refer to Warren and simultaneously insult and make generalizations about Native American tribes all over the country?
Yes, Vukmir could be trying to appeal to Trump’s Wisconsin base in one last attempt to climb polls before Tuesday’s election. Yes, Vukmir could be trying to damage Democrats’ reputations as much as possible by calling attention to Warren’s political misstep.
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Either way, however, Vukmir’s parroting of the “Pocahontas” nickname shows that she will not represent all Wisconsinites — especially those who called the Wisconsin area home first — with the respect and integrity a politician should.
Vukmir ought to be able to find her own voice on controversial issues instead of repeating Trump’s damaging, offensive rhetoric, and her voice needs to be more respectful of the people she hopes to represent as senator.
Juliet Dupont ([email protected]) is a sophomore majoring in political science and journalism.