Simon Moya-Smith: Trump perpetuates ignorance about Native Americans
Candidates who want to lead America shouldn't promote casual racism, he says
Editor’s Note: Simon Moya-Smith is a citizen of the Oglala Lakota Nation and culture editor at Indian Country Today. Follow him on Twitter @Simonmoyasmith. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
By now, I expect Donald Trump, who wants to be our president, to voice whatever acerbic thought he has.
He has called Mexicans “rapists” and “anchor babies.”
He has used adjectives such as “bimbo” and “fat pig” to describe women.
Make no mistake – these jabs were racist.
Last month, Warren, who says she is Native American but hasn’t presented any substantial evidence to prove her claim, challenged Trump in a series of tweets, notably calling him a “bully” and “loser.”
When the senator tweeted on May 6 that Trump “lied his way through the primaries without being held accountable,” the business mogul responded that same day tweeting, “Goofy Elizabeth Warren, Hillary Clinton’s flunky, has a career that is totally based on a lie. She is not Native American.”
A couple of hours later, Trump called Warren “weak and ineffective” and suggested her “Indian name” may be “all talk, no action.”
Immediately the offensive #elizabethwarrenindiannames hashtag flared with faux Indian names for Warren, especially among Trump’s 8.25 million Twitter followers.
Whether or not Warren is, in fact, Native American is still subject of debate in and out of Indian country, but it is beside the point. We are talking about Native Americans once again being belittled in the mainstream, and this time by a leading presidential candidate.
When Trump makes cracks against Warren, he uses the Native American community like a whip – like an inanimate object, or a people dead and gone, not likely to respond.
It may be quintessential Trump, but it’s nonetheless offensive and indicative of his skewed perspective on Native Americans today and historically.
For example, when Trump refers to Warren as “Pocahontas,” I imagine most people think of the beloved, though arguably hypersexualized, Disney character from the 1995 animated film. This is a problem.
In reality Pocahontas, whose real name was Matoaka, was a captive who married into white culture to protect her family. Her father, Chief Wahunsenaca, only agreed to the marriage for fear of what the white invaders would do if he refused. Oral history from our indigenous elders disagree with the written accounts of Pocahontas’ age (she may have been only a child), but one thing is for certain: It is hardly the stuff of entertaining cartoons.
This is the skewed perspective I speak of. Casual and offensive to Native Americans, promulgated by the man who thinks he should lead all the people of this country. It’s wrong. Our nation’s leaders (and even its potential leaders) must comprehend the language they often use so carelessly.
Unfortunately, Trump isn’t the only candidate at fault.
Last month, Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton blundered when she commented that she has experience with men such as Trump who “get off the reservation in the way they behave and how they speak.”
Clinton, however, did not apologize for her racist comment. Instead, her political director, Amanda Renteria, tweeted that Clinton “meant no disrespect to Native Americans” and that “divisive language has no place in our politics.”
Even the Bernie Sanders camp isn’t innocent of such mistakes.
When the Democratic presidential candidate announced last month he was going to cut hundreds of staff members, his campaign manager, Jeff Weaver, said they would have “no big powwow” when asked about Sanders reassessing his candidacy.
By the way, a powwow is a celebration of indigenous culture, language and cuisine. It is not an office meeting.
Still, Clinton and Sanders are paragons of sensitivity compared with Trump. While the two Democratic candidates stump throughout Indian country, visiting Native American elders and young people, discussing their platforms with this nation’s first peoples, the only time Trump makes reference to Native American citizens on the campaign trail is to insult someone.
At a time when we fight to be recognized as neighbors and contemporary professionals and not stereotypes, the last thing we need is to be fodder for a businessman with a documented history of attacking Native Americans.
One example of the uphill climb Native Americans face came in a Washington Post article Thursday that claimed nine out of 10 Native Americans polled said they are not offended by the racist name of the Washington NFL team. Here’s the problem with the newspaper’s methodology: More than half of the 504 people the newspaper asked self-identified as Native American, that is they call themselves Native American while not being enrolled as a citizen in a Native American nation.
Elizabeth Warren self-identifies as Native American. Rachel Dolezal, the white woman and former African studies instructor who famously said she identifies as black, self-identifies as Native American.
Get the picture?
As an enrolled citizen of the Oglala Lakota Nation, allow me to remind folks that “redskin” is a dictionary-defined racial slur that researchers have found to harm the mental health of Native American youths.
The issue of offensive language toward Native Americans that has been used throughout this presidential race is not about being politically correct. It is about being historically correct.
Of course, I cannot imagine Trump will miraculously begin to watch his mouth, but maybe other Americans soon will. They certainly won’t get any guidance from him.
Simon Moya-Smith is a citizen of the Oglala Lakota Nation and culture editor at Indian Country Today. Follow him on Twitter @Simonmoyasmith. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.