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Trump uses racial slur at White House event to honour Native Americans

The fact that Trump’s remarks were delivered from under a portrait of Andrew Jackson — a former US president who signed into law the Indian Removal Act, which led to the mass displacement of Native Americans — didn’t help matters.

world Updated: Nov 28, 2017 21:43 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times, Washington
Trump racist slur,Pocahontas,Trump Pocahontas
President Donald Trump (right) speaks during a meeting with Navajo Code Talkers including Fleming Begaye Sr. (seated left), Thomas Begay (second from left), and Peter MacDonald (second from right), in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, on November 27, 2017. (AP Photo)

It was a solemn White House occasion to honour surviving Native American code talkers from World War 2, but US President Donald Trump turned it into a raging controversy, repeating a racially-charged taunt about Democratic senator Elizabeth Warren by referring to her “Pocahontas”.

Addressing the Navajo veterans, Trump discarding his written speech, saying: “I just want to thank you because you’re very, very special people.

“You were here long before any of us were here, although we have a representative in Congress who, they say, was here a long time ago. They call her Pocahontas.”

He didn’t name anyone, but it was clear to everyone who he had meant.

Warren, a senator from Massachusetts, has been long criticised for a questionable claim that she was partly of Native American descent. Trump started calling her Pocahontas during the 2016 campaign to slight her, using the name of a historical figure from the early days of the colonisation of the Americas.

The fact that Trump’s remarks were delivered from under a portrait of Andrew Jackson — a former US president who signed into law the Indian Removal Act, which led to the mass displacement of Native Americans — didn’t help matters.

“It’s unfortunate that President Trump would refer to Sen Elizabeth Warren as Pocahontas in a joking way,” Mihio Manus, a spokesman for the Navajo National told The Washington Post.

White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders insisted that Trump did not mean to be offensive or use a racial slur, instead seeking to turn the focus on Warren.

“I think what most people find offensive is Senator Warren lying about her heritage to advance her career,” she said. “I think that Senator Warren was very offensive when she lied about something specifically to advance her career.”

Though it wasn’t immediately clear why Trump had chosen to attack Warren at the ceremony, there has been speculation that the firebrand senator might be a Democratic candidate for the White House in 2020.

“This was a ceremony to honour war heroes — Native Americans who had put it all on the line to protect our country and to save lives of Americans and our allies,” Warren told The New York Times. “It should have been a celebration of their incredible service, but Donald Trump couldn’t make it through without tossing in a racial slur.”

First Published: Nov 28, 2017 09:39 IST