Donald Trump is fond of giving people insulting nicknames that, presumably, have gotten more than a few people to crack a smile: "Crooked Hillary." "Sloppy Steve." But the name he calls Elizabeth Warren has never been funny.
The Massachusetts Senator is a political lightning rod known for "persisting" in even the most heated situations. On Feb. 14, she did it again — pushing back against the "Pocahontas" slur given to her by Trump and conservative critics.
"Our country’s disrespect of Native people didn’t start with President Trump," Warren said. "But now 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."
She did it in front of the National Congress of American Indians.
Warren could have easily made the remarks all about her. Instead, she had the courage to address the legacy of discrimination against Native Americans head-on during a surprise appearance at the National Congress of American Indians' Executive Council Winter Session and Tribal Nations Policy Summit.
After going through a list of crimes against Native peoples — everything from racial slurs to tax policy — Warren made it clear the verbal attacks against her are only a funnel into addressing bigger issues.
"Washington owes you respect. But this government owes you much more than that. This government owes you a fighting chance to build stronger communities and a brighter future — starting with a more prosperous economic future on tribal lands."
That didn't stop a number of critics from going after Warren using the same insulting, offensive language and phrasing that she was criticizing.
Still, Warren didn't let herself off the hook.
Warren's nickname has its roots in accusations that Warren lied about her heritage to further her career. She decided to address this claim directly in front of the group of people arguably most qualified to reject her authenticity.
"You won’t find my family members on any rolls, and I’m not enrolled in a tribe," she said. "And I want to make something clear. I respect that distinction. I understand that tribal membership is determined by tribes — and only by tribes. I never used my family tree to get a break or get ahead. I never used it to advance my career."
It's OK to criticize Warren and anyone else in politics — and even to have a little fun along the way. But it's never acceptable to use racist tactics.
If Warren's critics were actually concerned about cultural appropriation or the health of Native American communities, they'd do something about it. Instead, they're using the opportunity to troll her for political gain.
For everyone else, it's an opportunity to turn a painful situation into a more hopeful one. As Warren told the members of the NCIA, "I’m here today to make a promise: 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."