Senator Elizabeth Warren didn't hold back in a surprise speech at the National Congress of American Indians on Wednesday. In a rebuttal against Donald Trump's address of her as "Pocahontas," she recounted the life of the real Pocahontas in an effort to better illustrate the President's dismissal of the historical icon and of Native American peoples as a whole.
"I’ve noticed that every time my name comes up, President Trump likes to talk about Pocahontas," said Senator Warren. "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 went on to describe the brutal abuse Pocahontas faced by the white settlers of Jamestown as well as her many contributions that directly led to their survival.
"As a child," Warren said, "she played a significant role in mediating relations between the tribes ruled by her father and the early settlers at Jamestown. Those efforts helped establish early trade relations between the two peoples. Without her help, the English settlers might well have perished."
Senator Warren has been fighting skepticism of her ancestry since a 2012 Senate race against Scott Brown, in which it was uncovered that Warren listed herself as a minority while working as a professor at Harvard, despite having only anecdotal evidence of her Native American heritage at the time. Since that race, Senator Warren has repeatedly insisted that she never asked for and never received any benefits or special treatment for her heritage while at Harvard.
Though the speech was met with applause, Twitter nearly unanimously put the Senator through the wringer:
Pretty simple fix. Take the DNA test. If you have nothing to hide it shouldn't be a problem. You were even sent a free test, and returned it to sender. Now you are all upset. Sounds like someone doth protest too much.— brett varnell (@B_A_Brett) February 14, 2018
The Senator didn't shy away from these familiar accusations in her speech either: "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."
While few on Twitter defended the decision to refer to herself as Native American (which Warren hasn't done since at least 2012), some did offer advice, detailing why Trump's repeated referral to the Senator as "Pocahontas" is problematic.
Trump using "Pocahontas" as an insult is highlighting the contempt & utter disregard he has for Native Americans. Turn the tables. Point out that while you're unsure if you have Nat. Amer. heritage, you are HONORED to be called Pocahontas & hope to be as positive an influence.— MyOwnPerson (@myownpersonme) February 14, 2018
Saying "Pocahontas" is racial stereotyping and he says it over and over, so spite is heavily used.— †Callie the Artist✏ (@SheDoesArtWow) February 14, 2018
Excellent job Senator. You don’t have to defend your heritage or your statements to anyone. But at the end of the day use your platform to bring attention for those in real need.— Clara10🇵🇷 (@Claryse2) February 14, 2018
It remains to be seen if Senator Warren's reputation (and chances at a rumored 2018 Presidential run) will come out unscathed. However, since the President doesn't show signs of relenting in his use of the slur, Warren elevating the histories of the numerous Native Americans it demeans may add to her credibility.