In a speech to a Native American group on Wednesday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass) said she never used her claim as an ancestor to "get ahead." Warren also used the speech to the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) to address President Trump's use of 'Pocahontas,' a term he uses to refer to her, to talk about how Pocahontas was a victim, not a character in a fairytale story. Read the transcript of her remarks.
"I’ve noticed that every time my name comes up, President Trump likes to talk about Pocahontas. So I figured, let’s talk about Pocahontas. Not Pocahontas, the fictional character most Americans know from the movies, but Pocahontas, the Native woman who really lived, and whose real story has been passed down to so many of you through the generations," Warren said.
"In the fairy tale, Pocahontas and John Smith meet and fall in love," she said. "Except Smith was nearly 30, and Pocahontas was about 10 years old. Whatever happened between them, it was no love story."
"But in her teens, Pocahontas was abducted, imprisoned, and held captive. Oral history of the Mattaponi tribe indicates that she was ripped away from her first husband and child and raped in captivity," Warren said.
Warren said indigenous people have been telling the story of Pocahontas, "the real Pocahontas," for centuries as a story of "heroism."
"Indigenous people have been telling the story of Pocahontas — the real Pocahontas — for four centuries. A story of heroism. And bravery. And pain. And, for almost as long, her story has been taken away by powerful people who twisted it to serve their own purposes," the Senator said.
The senior Massachusetts Senator spoke about her ancestry claim and accusations that she used it to advance her career.
"Our country’s disrespect of Native people didn’t start with President Trump. It started long before President Washington ever took office," she said.
"The joke, I guess, is supposed to be on me," Warren said. "I get why some people think there’s hay to be made here. You won’t find my family members on any rolls, and I’m not enrolled in a tribe."
"And I want to make something clear," Warren declared. "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."
Warren talked about how her parents were "real people" and shared how her father's family was "bitterly opposed" to his marriage with her mother because of her Native American ancestry:
WARREN: But I want to make something else clear too: My parents were real people.
By all accounts, my mother was a beauty. She was born in Eastern Oklahoma, on this exact day — Valentine’s Day — February 14, 1912. She grew up in the little town of Wetumka, the kind of girl who would sit for hours by herself, playing the piano and singing. My daddy fell head over heels in love with her.
But my mother’s family was part Native American. And my daddy’s parents were bitterly opposed to their relationship. So, in 1932, when Mother was 19 and Daddy had just turned 20, they eloped.
Together, they survived the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression. They saved up to buy a home. They raised my three older brothers, and they watched as each one headed off to serve in the military. After Daddy had a heart attack and was out of work, after we lost the family station wagon and it looked like we would lose our house and everything would come crashing down, my mother put on her best dress and walked to the Sears and got a minimum-wage job. That minimum-wage job saved our house and saved our family.
My parents struggled. They sacrificed. They paid off medical debts for years. My daddy ended up as a janitor. They fought and they drank, but more than anything, they hung together. 63 years — that’s how long they were married. When my mother died, a part of my daddy slipped away too.
"So 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," she said.