President Trump on Monday made a derogatory reference to Sen. Elizabeth Warren, calling her "Pocahontas" at a White House event honoring the Native American code talkers who fought in World War II.
"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. But you know what, I like you," Trump said, while addressing the Navajo code talkers.
Native Americans have frequently slammed the president for invoking the culturally insensitive reference to Warren.
There was silence in the room after Trump's disparaging comment, according to reporters who were present.
Trump's comment immediately drew widespread criticism.
Native American groups slammed the president for "overshadowing" the ceremony and degrading Pocahontas's legacy.
“We regret that the President’s use of the name Pocahontas as a slur to insult a political adversary is overshadowing the true purpose of today’s White House ceremony,” said Jefferson Keel, the president of the National Congress of American Indians.
In a statement, the president of the Navajo Nation called the remark "insensitive" and said he did "not want to engage" in the dialogue, as it would further detract attention from honoring the Code Talkers.
“In this day and age, all tribal nations still battle insensitive references to our people. The prejudice that Native American people face is an unfortunate historical legacy,” Russell Begaye said. “As Native Americans, we are proud people who have taken care of this land long before there was the United States of America and we will continue to fight for this Nation. It was our Code Talkers that ensured the freedom of the United States and that’s what is important to remember here."
The Alliance of Colonial Era tribes called on Trump to apologize, noting that it would be the "appropriate and mature response" that would "heal instead of hurt."
"An even better response after the apology is to try to understand and learn more of the proud heritage of the people that were insulted and why the manner in which you used the reference may be viewed as an insult," wrote Dr. J.R. Norwood, ACET's general secretary. "This is a "teachable moment" that could be transformed into something positive, if America and its president are willing to learn."
Responding to his comment, Warren said, "It is deeply unfortunate that the president of the United States cannot even make it through a ceremony honoring these heroes without having to throw out a racial slur."
However, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said she thought it was "ridiculous" of Warren to consider "Pocahontas" a racial slur. "I think what most people find offensive is Sen. Warren lying about her heritage to advance her career," Sanders told reporters.
Responding to critics who slammed Trump's "Pocahontas" remark as offensive to Native Americans, Sanders said that the president "certainly finds an extreme amount of value and respect for these individuals and which is why he invited them to come to the White House."
The Boston Globe reported in 2016 that Trump used to claim he was Swedish — but was actually German:
When asked why his father claimed he was Swedish, Trump told the Globe, “Well, he spent time in Sweden. And he talked about Swedish because of the fact, you know, we happened to be at war with Germany, which I guess makes sense in a lot of ways doesn’t it? But he spent time in Sweden.”
“Our country was at war with Germany,” he added. “So being from Germany didn’t necessarily play so well for a period of time.”
When asked why he felt he had to perpetuate the falsehood, he said, “Well, it was never really something discussed. My father spent a lot of time there. But it was never really something really discussed very much.”