In a speech before the National Congress of American Indians on Wednesday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren addressed her family heritage while openly mocking the president for using the same racial slur against her. Instead of ignoring the controversy surrounding her ancestry, Warren shared her family’s history after speaking about the life story of the true Pocahontas.
“I’ve noticed that every time my name comes up, President Trump likes to talk about Pocahontas,” Sen. Warren said on Wednesday. “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.”
Warren admitted that the true story of Pocahontas had been twisted into a “fable . . . used to bleach away the stain of genocide.” Partly responsible for mediating relations between the tribes ruled by her father and the early settlers at Jamestown, the young girl known as “Pocahontas” was abducted in her teens, imprisoned and reportedly raped before remarrying and dying at the age of 21.
“Indigenous people have been telling the story of Pocahontas – the real Pocahontas – for four centuries,” Warren continued. “A story of heroism. And bravery. And pain.”
“And, for almost as long, her story has been taken away by powerful people who twisted it to serve their own purposes.”
“Our country’s disrespect of Native people didn’t start with President Trump. It started long before President Washington ever took office.”
“But now we have a president who can’t make it through a ceremony honoring Native American war heroes without reducing Native history, Native culture, Native people to the butt of a joke.”
“The joke, I guess, is supposed to be on me.”
“I get why some people think there’s hay to be made here. You won’t find my family members on any rolls, and I’m not enrolled in a tribe.”
“And I want to make something clear. I respect that distinction. I understand that tribal membership is determined by tribes – and only by tribes. I never used my family tree to get a break or get ahead. I never used it to advance my career.”
According to Warren, her mother’s family was part Native American, and her father’s parents were bitterly opposed to their relationship. In 1932, they eloped and stayed together for 63 years, until her mother passed away.
“They’re gone, but the love they shared, the struggles they endured, the family they built, and the story they lived will always be a part of me,” Warren asserted. “And no one – not even the president of the United States – will ever take that part of me away.”
Addressing the darker aspects of U.S. history, Warren told the National Congress of American Indians, “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.
“This must stop. And I promise I will fight to help write a different story.”