I was drawn to the headline of an article written by Rebecca Sinderbrand appearing in Washington Post June 10 issue under the headline “Trump, and the GOP's 'Pocahontas' problem.” The text reads;

Trump didn't launch any fresh controversy this week. But some favorite lines are making for uncomfortable moments on Capitol Hill. Like, say, this one: "It was a bad time for Sen. Cory Gardner to be caught in an elevator with a reporter. Donald Trump had just referred to Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts as 'Pocahontas' — again — and the Republican freshman from Colorado was struggling to figure out how to respond. "'I think people need to be treated with respect, and that’s what we’ve demanded from everyone,' he offered.

Kenkyu-sha’s “Readers English Japanese Dictionary" at hand introduces 'Pocahontas' as:

(1595-1617) A daughter of American Indian, Powhatan. She is remembered as a legendary woman who saved the life of John Smith, a leader of the colony of James-town. She married John Rolfe who contributed to the development and improvement of tobacco cultivation. She is admired as the great contributor to the construction and development of the British colony.

I don’t understand why the reference to such a legendary and reputable personality who contributed to the development of agriculture in the early period of American history causes a “Problem.”

What implications do “Pocahontas problem” have in association with the context of the Presidential race.


Please have in mind that I have no intent to discuss political correctness / un-correctness of this specific phrase. I simply would like to know what 'Pocahontas' rhetorically or figuratively means, not politically.


As The Guardian links notes, Warren has claimed Cherokee and Delaware tribe ancestry on the basis of family stories, which cannot be documented. Pocahontas is a historical figure, an Indian woman captured during fighting between the English and Indians in the early 1600s. She converted to Christianity and declined to return to her tribe when given the chance. Her story has been fictionalized and romanticized.

Trump has called Warren Pocahontas as a taunt. He means that Warren is really white and that her claims of Indian heritage are as baseless as the fictional stories attached to the life of Pocahontas.

The "problem" for the Republican Party is that it's one more instance of Trump using ethnicity to denigrate an opponent. Republicans are also aware that Warren easily defeated her last Republican opponent, Scott Brown, who also tried to make an issue of Warren's ancestry claims.

  • Only for you, @Mari-LouA, only for you. – deadrat Jun 11 '16 at 7:08
  • Deleted my answer, these questions are better answered by "native" North Americans such as yourself. – Mari-Lou A Jun 11 '16 at 7:11
  • @Mari-LouA "Native". It's at times like this that I wish I knew how to use emoticons. – deadrat Jun 11 '16 at 7:43
  • It is unfortunate that in the last century a lot of our grandparents who used to be called "half-breed" tried to "pass" for white, and so lost contact with their culture, leaving us with only the "family stories" and no documentation. – Cascabel Jun 11 '16 at 22:41
  • The family stories are well-documented, even if her Indian ancestry isn't. There is a letter from many decades ago saying exactly the same thing. – Peter Shor Jun 16 '16 at 19:37

The original (back in 2012 or earlier) gibe at Elizabeth Warren involved referring to her as "Fauxcahontas"—that is, "Fake [Po]cahontas," the implication being that she didn't really have any Native American ancestry but was exploiting special minority preferences in school admissions and elsewhere to gain an unfair advantage over both "real" Native Americans and people of European-American heritage who didn't claim special status. A Google search for "fauxcahontas" yields tens of thousands of matches—many to sites of very dubious accuracy that I have no interest in promoting.

But Donald Trump seems not to have registered that calling someone Fauxcahontas is categorically different from calling her Pocahontas: the latter suggests that the name of the historical/legendary Indian princess of the John Smith story is itself somehow a mockworthy epithet to give someone. The "GOP's 'Pocahontas Problem'" is essentially that, in some closely contested states (like Colorado) that are home to a fairly large Native American population, having the Republican party's presidential candidate repeatedly use Pocahontas as a sarcastic insult is likely to make it harder than it might otherwise be for Republicans running for the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives and for state office to win the support of their state's Native American voters.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.