President Donald Trump caught some flak for attempting a Pocahontas joke at Monday’s Oval Office event honoring Native American code talkers from World War II.
But perhaps even more jarring: Looming over the proceedings was a portrait of Andrew Jackson, whom Indian Country Today says “tops the list of worst president for Natives.”
The seventh president was nicknamed “Indian killer” and “Sharp Knife” for his policies toward American Indians. His Indian Removal Act in 1830 “legalized ethnic cleansing,” according to the online publication. It is estimated that 46,000 to 60,000 people — Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, Chickasaw and Seminole — were forced off their land.
“In the Trail of Tears alone, 4,000 Cherokee people died of cold, hunger and disease on their way to the western lands.”
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The Washington Post noted that the portrait of Jackson was “visible for the entirety of the 17-minute event in the White House.
“We noticed,” said Jacqueline Pata, executive director of the National Congress of American Indians.
A spokesman for the Navajo Nation said the placement of the portrait was “unfortunate.”
The Pocahontas reference was an allusion to U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, whom Trump has ridiculed for saying she had some native blood in her ancestry.
“You were here long before any of us were here,” Trump said to the Navajo code talker guests at the White House. “Although we have a representative in Congress who they say was here a long time ago. They call her ‘Pocahontas.’ But you know what, I like you.”
Former Arkansas governor and presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, now a commentor on Fox, defended Trump and disputed Warren’s heritage.
“Elizabeth Warren lied about her ancestry in order to advance her career,” he said. “That is what ought to be outrageous to people. And why isn’t the left upset about cultural appropriation? I mean, that’s something we hear about all the time. You cannot culturally appropriate something. Well, that’s what she’s done. So I’m just waiting for a little consistency from the left. That would be kind of nice to see.”
His daughter, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said on Monday that a racial slur “was certainly not the president’s intent.”
The Navajo Nation Council responded in a statement Monday saying Trump’s comment is the latest example of “deep-seated, systematic ignorance of Native Americans.”
“The reckless appropriation of this term is deeply offensive and dangerous to the sovereignty of our identity of our peoples,” the statement read. “Such rhetoric is damaging, and it a serious infringement of our right to live as Native Americans.”
Some people suspect the whole event was meant to be a distraction while senators work to pass tax reform legislation.