Two Native American leaders slammed President Donald Trump’s casual use of a “racial slur” in front of a portrait of Andrew Jackson in an interview on CNN.
On Monday, Trump spoke in front of the portrait to honor Navajo Code Talkers who fought in World War II.
“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,” Trump said to the veterans.
On Tuesday, Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye slammed Trump for insulting the war heroes.
“We need to honor these war heroes, our American war heroes in a respectful way, in any situation, any circumstance, in any environment,” he said.
“Pocahontas is a real person. It’s not a caricature,” he explained, adding that she played a “critical role” in the “life of this nation” and the comment was “culturally insensitive.”
Sonny Skyhawk, the founder of American Indians in Film and Television, accused Trump of intentionally staging the event in front of a portrait of the president who signed the Indian Removal Act and said the remarks were an intentional “slight.”
“I think it was a condescending racial slur,” Skyhawk said. “Unfortunately, at an inopportune time when these heroes were being honored. It’s uncalled for. Totally uncalled for. And he knew what he was doing.”
“Of course he knows Andrew Jackson,” he added. “Andrew Jackson is one of his heroes. He acts like him. He talks like him. I mean, he wants to be him in modern day. But, again it was totally uncalled for.”
“To slur the code-talkers or any Native person is totally uncalled for,” he said.
While the “Pocahontas” jab got most of the coverage, holding the event in front of Jackson’s portrait is all the more curious. Jackson is infamous for his horrific treatment of Native Americans. The Indian Removal Act forced tens of thousands of Native Americans to relocate while thousands died on the “Trail of Tears” during the forced relocation.
“We noticed,” Jacqueline Pata, the executive director of the National Congress of American Indians, told The Washington Post. “Andrew Jackson wasn’t necessarily a president who was respectful of tribal governments and Native Americans. This is one of those eras that is probably bleaker in terms of the relationship between Native Americans and the federal government.”
Gyasi Ross, a member of the Blackfeet Nation tribe, told The Washington Post he believes the staging was intentional.
“It’s an incredibly distasteful wink in front of people who have sacrificed so much,” he said. “Donald Trump is not a stupid man. He understands visuals and optics: His background is in television. So all of that stuff, I believe, is very deliberate.”
Trump placed the portrait in the Oval Office immediately after moving to the White House and in March visited Jackson’s home in Tennessee to lay a wreath at his tomb.
“We knew when he chose to put the wreath on Andrew Jackson’s grave,” Pata said. “There are a lot of presidents out there. We remember those things. It’s part of our history, too.”