Native Americans and supporters are furious after President Donald Trump casually referred to the Wounded Knee massacre, which killed hundreds of unarmed people, to make a racist dig at Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).
Trump made fun of an Instagram video post by Warren, a 2020 presidential candidate, in her kitchen. “If Elizabeth Warren, often referred to by me as Pocahontas, did this commercial from Bighorn or Wounded Knee instead of her kitchen, with her husband dressed in full Indian garb, it would have been a smash,” Trump mocked on Twitter.
Native Americans weren’t laughing.
Not only was the reference to Pocahontas insulting, as people have complained repeatedly, but the casual reference to Wounded Knee — and the Battle of Little Bighorn — as part of a disdainful joke astounded many.
“We condemn in the strongest possible terms the casual and callous use of these events as part of a political attack,” said Jefferson Keel, president of the National Congress of American Indians. “Hundreds of Lakota, Cheyenne, and Arapaho people lost their lives at the hands of the invading U.S. Army during these events, and their memories should not be desecrated as a rhetorical punch line.”
The chairman of the Rosebud Sioux tribe, Rodney Bordeaux, called the 1890 Wounded Knee massacre in South Dakota “one of the darkest and most tragic chapters in the history of the Sioux Nation” in which as many as 400 unarmed Native Americans, many of them women and children, were slaughtered by U.S. soldiers. Bordeaux called Trump’s tweet “racist and disrespectful,” and demanded the president apologize for his “shameful and ignorant misstatement.”
Sioux tribal lawyer and writer Ruth Hopkins tweeted: “This isn’t funny. It’s cold, callous, and just plain racist.”
Congress formally apologized to the descendants of the victims of the Wounded Knee massacre 100 years after the fact and expressed “deep regret” in a resolution that made no mention of reparations.
In the Battle of Little Bighorn, hundreds were killed in 1876 in what is now Montana when the Lakota Sioux, Northern Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes fought the U.S. Cavalry led by Lt. Col. George Custer.
The anger by the Native Americans is particularly sharp given Trump’s ongoing campaign against immigrants and his insistence on a government shutdown until he gets $5.7 billion to build a wall along the southern border. To Native Americans, Trump is an immigrant.
“Flippant references to deadly historical conflicts and name-calling that mocks Native identity have no place in our political discourse,” said Keel. “I urge the president to focus instead on doing the people’s business, including ending the needless government shutdown that is harming so many Native people.”
Storm Reyes, 69, a member of the Puyallup tribe in Washington state, told The New York Times that the president’s use of Wounded Knee was “equivalent to making a ‘joke’ about 9/11, Pearl Harbor or the Holocaust.” She said it was “awful that not only did Trump use this tragedy as a joke, weapon and insult, but that his ignorance of American history is so great that he didn’t even know that Wounded Knee was a massacre and not a battle.”
Warren has been repeatedly mocked by Trump as “Pocahontas” because of her past claims that she has Native American ancestry, based on family stories.
She released results of a DNA test last year that she said showed “strong evidence” of Native American heritage and indicated she may have had an American Indian ancestor as long as 10 generations ago. But she was criticized by a leader of the Cherokee Nation for conflating a blood test with tribal affiliation.
“A DNA test is useless to determine tribal citizenship,” Secretary of State for the Cherokee Nation Chuck Hoskin Jr. said in a statement after Warren released the test. “Sovereign tribal nations set their own legal requirements for citizenship.”
Warren acknowledged the distinction. She tweeted in response that she agreed “DNA and family history has nothing to do with tribal affiliation ... which is determined only by tribal nations.”