Mr. Trump was referring, as he often has, to Ms. Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts, a former Harvard Law School professor who came under fire in 2012 after it emerged that, during her academic career, she identified herself as a minority, citing Native American roots.
The comment drew swift rebukes from Native American leaders, including one who was present for the ceremony. Russell Begaye, the president of the Navajo Nation, called the president’s mention of Pocahontas “derogatory” and “disrespectful to Indian nations.”
“This is something that unfortunately came up during the campaign and it seems to have stuck in the mind of the president, something that he continues to use, to take a jab at the senator,” Mr. Begaye said in an interview. “The campaign is over. The nation needs to move forward, and using Native Americans in this way, in this type of honoring setting is something that should not be happening.”
Ms. Warren said the episode reflected the president’s penchant for racial slurs.
“This was a ceremony to honor 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,” Ms. Warren said in an interview. “It should have been a celebration of their incredible service, but Donald Trump couldn’t make it through without tossing in a racial slur.”
Newsletter Sign UpContinue reading the main story
Sign Up for the Race/Related Newsletter
Join a deep and provocative exploration of race with a diverse group of New York Times journalists.
Thank you for subscribing.
An error has occurred. Please try again later.
You are already subscribed to this email.
The White House rejected that characterization — “a ridiculous response,” said Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary — and defended the remark.
“What most people find offensive is Senator Warren lying about her heritage to advance her career,” Ms. Sanders told reporters shortly after the ceremony.
The Republican Party also rushed to the president’s defense, calling Mr. Trump’s comment a “joke,” and circulating talking points to reporters that said that Ms. Warren “lied about her ancestry for years,” and has never provided proof that she is of Native American descent.
AdvertisementContinue reading the main story
Ms. Warren called the White House’s response “alternative facts.”
“He knows it’s not true, but he doesn’t care,” she said. “He says this because he thinks he can shut me up. It hasn’t worked before, and it won’t work now.”
It was not clear why Mr. Trump chose to target Ms. Warren for ridicule, although she has figured prominently in a dispute unfolding this week over the leadership of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, an agency she helped create, and had been conducting TV interviews on the subject.
But for Native American leaders who had worked behind the scenes with the White House to organize the ceremony, Mr. Trump’s off-topic remark reopened painful wounds.
“For Indian Country, which has a very high level of participation in the military and veterans’ service, it was a real honor to be at that event today,” said Jacqueline Pata, the executive director of the National Congress of American Indians, “and it is unfortunate that it was used as an opportunity to once again try to use the word Pocahontas in a negative way towards a political adversary.”
The group issued a statement in May after Mr. Trump referred to Ms. Warren as Pocahontas at a National Rifle Association gathering, calling it a “pejorative term” that insulted native people and degraded their cultures. Members of the National Congress of American Indians said at the time that with the election over, they hoped that the remark was a “momentary slip-up” that would not be repeated by the president.
On Monday, Debra Haaland, a Democratic candidate for Congress in New Mexico who is a member of the Laguna Pueblo tribe, quickly seized on the episode to condemn Mr. Trump and raise money for her campaign.
“I can’t begin to express how angered I am by the display of ignorance in our White House today,” Ms. Haaland wrote in a fund-raising email. “The president’s actions disgrace the history of Pocahontas, Native Americans, Navajo code talkers and all Native American veterans who served and died for this country.”