Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) on Wednesday made a surprise appearance at the National Congress of American Indians, delivering a speech about issues facing Native Americans and defending herself from the “Pocahontas” slur repeatedly lobbed at her by President Trump.
The senator, who claims partial Native American heritage, explained her family’s background in the speech, saying that her mother’s family was part Native American and that she eloped with Warren’s father because his family did not approve of their relationship.
“I get why some people think there’s hay to be made here,” Warren said, according to a transcript of the speech published by The Boston Globe. “You won’t find my family members on any rolls, and I’m not enrolled in a tribe.”
She said that she respects the distinction between heritage and tribal membership, and said she has “never used my family tree to get a break or get ahead. I never used it to advance my career.”
Trump most recently referred to Warren as “Pocahontas” at a November event honoring Native American Code Talkers, a comment that many have criticized as a racial slur.
“We have a president who can’t make it through a ceremony honoring Native American war heroes without reducing Native history, Native culture, Native people to the butt of a joke,” Warren said Wednesday.
Warren told the basics of the Pocahontas story, noting specifically her suffering at the hands of early English settlers.
“Her story has been taken away by powerful people who twisted it to serve their own purposes,” Warren said. “The fable is used to bleach away the stain of genocide. As you know, Pocahontas’s real journey was far more remarkable — and far darker — than the myth admits.”
During her 2012 campaign to unseat then-Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.), Warren was accused of trying to claim Native American heritage to advance her academic career, including listing herself as a minority in a Harvard Law School directory.
She also spoke about the economic, environmental and social issues affecting Native American communities and committed to addressing issues such as racism, monument protection, economic disenfranchisement, mental health and substance abuse.
“I’m here today to make a promise,” Warren said. “Every time someone brings up my family’s story, I’m going to use it to lift up the story of your families and your communities. … This must stop. And I promise I will fight to help write a different story.”