by Antonia Gonzales
Navajo Nation tribal leaders responded to a White House event honoring Native American Code Talkers by calling the contributions of code talkers invaluable, but cultural insensitivity shown by President Donald Trump after Trump made comments about Pocahontas.
“The statement by President Trump was disrespectful and rude,” said Navajo Nation Vice President Jonathan Nez on Tuesday in response to President Trump’s comments. “Our Navajo Code Talkers fought for courage and honor and that same respect should have been given to them yesterday at the White House. Instead that event will be remembered for entirely different reasons.”
In a statement, Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye said the tribe does not want to engage in dialogue between Senator Elizabeth Warren and Trump, but said all tribal nations still battle insensitive references and prejudice. Nez said the tribe has asked the White House for an apology and believes one step toward reconciliation would be for President Trump to keep his verbal commitment he made Monday to help build a museum to honor Navajo Code Talkers.
“I don’t see an apology coming from President Trump, but I think that if he were to make it right or to show his thankfulness to our Navajo Code Talkers he will take on this national Navajo Code Talkers museum,” said Nez. “As his (Trump) personal project and make that happen for our heroes, the Navajo Code Talkers, and build that here on the Navajo Nation.”
Trump’s comments came as he welcomed three elderly Navajo Code Talkers to the White House for a ceremony to honor Native American Code Talkers. Navajo and other code talkers from different tribes served during World Wars I and II, and federal statistics show Native Americans serve in the Armed Forces at a higher rate than any other demographic group in the U.S.
Ninety-year-old Peter MacDonald discussed the role Navajo Code Talkers had in World War II, which included the original 29 Navajo men who were recruited in 1942 to develop the code using the Navajo language. The Navajo code is considered unbreakable and is credited for helping save the lives of countless American military service members during combat in the Pacific.
“General Vandegrift, Commander of the 1st Marine Division, sent word back to (the) United States saying this Navajo code is terrific,” said MacDonald. “The enemy never understood it, he said. We don’t understand it either, but it works. Send us some more Navajos.”
MacDonald was joined at the White House by Fleming Begaye and Thomas Begay. They were all dressed in the Navajo Code Talkers uniform, which includes gold shirts, red hats and turquoise jewelry. President Trump stood next to the men and proceeded to the podium after MacDonald’s remarks.
Trump decided not to read his speech, but instead handed it to MacDonald commenting that he did not have to give a speech because MacDonald had said the same thing he was going to deliver. The president then acknowledged members in the audience and made the reference to Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren.
“And I just want to thank you because you’re very, very special people. You were here long before any of us were here, although we have a representative in Congress who, they say, was here a long time ago. They call her Pocahontas,” said Trump.
Trump has used the term repeatedly to refer to the Massachusetts senator over her claims of Native American heritage. Some Democratic U.S. senators and leaders of national Native organizations have called out the president for use of the term stating it’s a racial slur.
Trump said to the three Navajo Code Talkers that help would be coming. “So, they’re working on building a Navajo Code Talkers Museum. And we will help you. Okay?” said Trump. “And we have some pretty good strength. We will help you and you deserve it.”
Navajo Code Talkers have been working for years on a museum and veterans center project. The envision for the museum would be for it to be built on the Navajo Nation to highlight and educate the public about the contributions Navajo Code Talkers made during World War II. The veterans center would be intended as a gathering place for all veterans and an area for veterans to access services.