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Haaland: Trump’s ‘Pocahontas’ remark diminished Code Talkers’ moment

HAALAND: An enrolled Laguna Pueblo member (Courtesy of Debra Haaland)

Deb Haaland, an Albuquerque Democrat seeking to become the first  Native American woman in Congress, cringed when she heard President Donald Trump make his “Pocahontas” wisecrack at a White House ceremony honoring the Navajo Code Talkers on Monday.

But Haaland said she was even more troubled that the remark overshadowed the Code Talkers’ heroic achievement in World War II. Indeed, in most television coverage and news articles the Code Talkers became an afterthought to commentary about Trump’s insensitive remark.

“That wasn’t really the story – it should have been about the Code Talkers,” Haaland said in a telephone interview this morning. “Their names weren’t even mentioned in many of the articles. Their story was completely lost and that’s a tragedy. That’s the most hurtful part about it.”

For the record, here are the names of the men who were honored Monday for helping develop and implement the code that confounded the Japanese during World War II and was never broken. The names were provided to the Journal by the White House.

  • Fleming Begaye Sr. (Navajo Code Talker – USMC)
  • Roy Hawthorne (Navajo Code Talker – USMC)
  • Thomas Begay (Navajo Code Talker – USMC)
  • Samuel Holiday (Navajo Code Talker – USMC)
  • Alfred Newman (Navajo Code Talker – USMC)


Peter MacDonald, president of the 13 surviving members of the Code Talkers group, was also on hand and made remarks at the White House before Trump’s comments.

Haaland said those who would defend Trump’s “Pocahontas” remark by noting that the target of his jab – Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren – has misrepresented herself as part Native American should rethink their position. Asked about Trump’s gaffe after Monday’s ceremony, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabeen Sanders said, “I think what most people find offensive is Senator Warren lying about her heritage to advance her career.”

“I think it’s a very weak defense and if it’s all they have then they shouldn’t say it all,” Haaland said. “President Trump doesn’t get to decide who is Native American. It’s a shame he did that to score to political points. He needs to just stay out of that argument.

“He owes the Code Talkers an apology,” she added.

Meanwhile, members of New Mexico’s congressional delegation – except Republican Rep. Steve Pearce  – each issued comments denouncing Trump’s remarks. A spokeswoman for Pearce said the focus should remain on the Code Talkers.

“President Trump owes the Navajo Code Talkers an apology,” said Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, D-N.M. “These American heroes did a great service in World War II and should have been properly thanked and honored at the event in the White House today. Instead, the President made an appalling joke using a racial slur – that kind of language and insult has no place in our halls of government or society. The Navajo Code Talkers deserve gratitude and respect. They didn’t get hat from our President and it’s shameful.”

Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, D-N.M., called the remark “mean-spirited, insulting and impossible to interpret as anything other than a slur against an entire people.”

“They are beneath the dignity of the office that Mr. Trump holds and are especially insensitive given the setting in which they were delivered, one designed to honor the Navajo Code Talkers’ role in World War II,”  Lujan said.

Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., called the remark unacceptable.

“Navajo Code Talkers used the Navajo language to help win WWII,” Heinrich said. “Instead of honoring their immense contributions to our country, the president used a racial slur in a ceremony meant to celebrate them. This type of callous behavior is unacceptable.”

Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., said the comment was racist and demeaning.

“The Code Talkers gave back to their country by sharing their language even though they were born into a nation that often denied them their most basic civil rights and even when they faced bigotry and injustice in their own lands,” Udall said. “Donald Trump’s racist joke – during Native American Heritage Month no less – demeaned the contributions that the Code Talkers and countless other Native American patriots and citizens have made to our great country.”

A spokeswoman for Pearce, Keeley Christensen, avoided commenting on Trump’s remarks and said the focus should remain on the Code Talkers.

“The Congressman believes the Navajo code talkers epitomize what it means to be from the Greatest Generation,” she said. ” Their honor, courage, and sacrifice should be everyone’s focus. He admires them greatly.”