Trump’s a racist. He’s also an idiot. He has a limited vocabulary that boils down to “great,” “very best,” “I,” and “loser.” His troll-like attacks on Elizabeth Warren are reductive, reducing Natives down to romantic imagery, and chiming back the colonialist tale of “Pocahontas,” a Native girl white people fetishized to promote their idea of “The Good Native.” We all know the real story; Pocahontas was a victim of child sexual exploitation and died away from her people, “converted” on a boat, amidst a genocide still not actualized, but prevalent in our communities and governments again and again. I won’t save Elizabeth Warren from racist comments alluding to her misguided assumptions that family stories qualify her as Native.
Trump’s limited vocabulary limited his criticisms of Warren’s claim to Native ancestry to calling her “Pocahontas.” How he offended her, while offensive to me, is secondary to the true offense of Warren. While his constant refrain of Warren’s claims to Native ancestry is in true form of a troll, he brings to light the shame she carries in her inability to produce anything substantial on her claims to being Native.
Let’s face it, Warren cashed in on being Native. She checked the box, like so many Pretendians do, without living the struggle, acknowledging the struggle, or connecting with her people. To be honest, I’m more offended by Warren than Trump. He’s got German ancestry and he’s an immigrant, and a white politician. From my own experience, nothing good comes from that. But Warren, this woman claimed to be Native when it counted on a box, then did nothing with it. Yes, white woman, your parents told you that you were Native. Do you have any pictures of your great grandmother on her land, standing proud against the trees she planted? Do you have any mementos from the lineage you come from? Have you done anything to connect with your people? Do you know the stories from the time before contact? Are you even interested? Being Native is more than checking a box. I know Native people displaced from their own land, living in Oakland, who cling to anything linking them to their past. The struggle is real for Natives displaced, and it’s not real to Warren.
Warren’s the type of white lady I’ve dealt with in academia for some time. “I have some Cherokee in me,” is no doubt familiar to many Native people. We deal with this on a daily basis in our offices, classrooms, and workplaces. Well-meaning liberal white women could be the death of us. Their “claims” to a heritage they refuse to honor is abhorrent.
Yes, Trump is a walking stool sample. There’s absolutely nothing good about him. When he called Warren “Pocahontas,” I snickered. Not because I’ve internalized racism, but because I know both parties think Natives are some romantic image: loin clothes, distanced from the modernity of our time. Their limited idea on what Native is has allowed Trump to make his commentary, and Warren to check a box she earned no right in checking. These people deserve each other. Neither will fight for our rights, or defend us when it’s time.
There’s a fire in the earth at Fort Mac; Indigenous children are going missing every day, and our women and men continue to think suicide is absolution compared to living in the very real, dark place we’re in now. Neither Trump or Warren concerns themselves with any of this, and I can’t come to any white woman’s defense when she’s not at mine.
I have no faith in this election, which produced no candidates to vote for of color. I have no faith in a system that sees an all white ticket as progress. So many Indigenous women I admire have come to the defense of Warren, and it feels ugly to say anything against them, but when did being a Pretendian become better than being a racist? Aren’t they the same breed of ugly? What could either of them do for us, when neither acknowledges our being?
I come from a sordid past. My mother was a matriarchal Nlaka’ pamux, and my father was an estranged, non-lineal Cree, who died without clan or roots. I am constantly aware of how government documents produce erasure for people as a whole, but I refuse to adopt Warren into my plight. She’s never had to call her estranged parent’s sister to ask what Nation her father grew up in. She’s never had to make peace with the fact that her ancestor did something so cruel, like kidnapping a girl, or nothing at all, to become unregistered and undocumented. Warren knows nothing of real struggle. She’s got her Ivy League diversity box checked, and she wants nothing more from us. As far as I’m concerned, she and Trump are both enemies.
Terese Marie Mailhot is an IAIA Alumni. Her work has been featured in Yellow Medicine Review, Carve Magazine, and The Offing.