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Donald Trump calls senator ‘Pocahontas’ as he honours Native American veterans

Trump used the historical figure’s name to refer to senator Elizabeth Warren.

Donald Trump has made a “Pocahontas” reference in front of Native American veterans – drawing criticism from their families.

The president was honouring three Navajo code talkers, who helped crack codes in the Second World War, when he deployed a nickname he has used often for Democratic senator Elizabeth Warren.

Warren, who Trump feuded with during his presidential campaign, said in an interview with MSNBC it was unfortunate Trump couldn’t honour heroes “without having to throw out a racial slur”.

Pocahontas is said to have helped relations between her own Pamunkey Tribe and the British in the 1600s. But the National Congress of American Indians says Trump has wrongly turned the name into a derogatory term, and there was swift criticism for Trump from Native Americans and social media.

“He can say what he wants when he’s out doing his presidential business among his people, but when it comes to honouring veterans or any kind of people, he needs to grow up and quit saying things like that,” said Marty Thompson, whose great-uncle was a Navajo code talker.

Navajo Nation president Russell Begaye said: “All tribal nations still battle insensitive references to our people. The prejudice that Native American people face is an unfortunate historical legacy.”

Given how often Trump has used the term to refer to Warren, one of the president’s fiercest critics during the election campaign, some people were not surprised.

Many people noticed that the comments came in front of the portrait of Andrew Jackson that Trump moved into the Oval Office following his inauguration. The former president is known for his forced removal of Native Americans from their ancestral lands.

“I feel really sad that they didn’t get treated with respect,” said Helena Begaii, whose 94-year-old Navajo code talker father Samuel T Holiday declined an invitation to the White House.

New Mexico Senator Tom Udall, vice chairman of the Indian Affairs committee, added: “Donald Trump’s latest 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.”

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said a racial slur “was certainly not the president’s intent”.

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