Warren vows to ‘lift up’ Native Americans

Senator speaks at NCAI after being introduced by Aquinnah chairwoman.

Cheryl Andrews-Maltais, chairwoman of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) embraces Sen. Elizabeth Warren who she introduced at the National Congress of American Indians.

U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, whose Native American heritage has been the butt of President Donald Trump’s Twitter tirades and public appearances, spoke before the National Congress of American Indians in Washington, D.C., Thursday, vowing to help Native Americans through her work in the U.S. Congress and tell the real story of Indians.

Warren was introduced Thursday by Cheryl Andrews-Maltais, chairwoman of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head Aquinnah.

“Senator Warren is an Indian country ally. She is not only a friend to Aquinnah, she’s part of and a friend of Indian country as a whole,” Andrews-Maltais said to applause, according to an audio recording of her introductory speech. “Last month, as you recall, when we heard the news that United States Supreme Court sided with our tribe and denied the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the town, and the wealthy taxpayers association challenge to our rights to do what we do on our lands, that day Senator Warren personally called me to congratulate me and the tribe and to encourage us to continue to exercise our sovereignty and our rights. Senator Warren is not just an advocate for Aquinnah, she’s an advocate and a champion for all of Indian country.”

In January, the Aquinnah tribe’s protracted legal battle came to an end with the Supreme Court refusing to hear the case. The tribe is now free to open an electronic bingo hall on tribal lands.

Andrews-Maltais described Warren as a champion of tribal issues. “In a political climate that’s not always receptive to our issues, we are truly fortunate to have a friendly senator like her in Congress,” Andrews-Maltais said. “She is a true sister in our fight.”

Warren, during her remarks, addressed the elephant in the room — her own heritage that became such a hot-button issue during her victory over Republican opponent Scott Brown. She started by telling the Native American version of Pocahontas, a name that President Trump has used for Warren, most recently at an event where he was honoring Native Americans code talkers who served in World War II. Code talkers were Navajos recruited to transmit messages in their tribal language to avoid enemies intercepting the strategic information.

“…Now we have a president who can’t make it through a ceremony honoring Native American war heroes without reducing native history, native culture, native people to the butt of a joke,” Warren said. “The joke, I guess, is supposed to be on me.”

Warren sought to correct what she called the “fairy tale” version of Pocahontas, noting that John Smith was 30 and Pocahontas was 10. She described Pocahontas as being ripped from her family, raped, and taken to Europe, where she was paraded around. Pocahontas died at 21.

“In reality, the fable is used to bleach away the stain of genocide,” Warren said.

At this point in her remarks, Warren attempted to set the record straight about her own family tree. “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,” Warren said. “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.”

Her mother was born in Eastern Oklahoma in Wetumka, and her family was part Native American. “And my daddy’s parents were bitterly opposed to their relationship,” Warren said. “So in 1932, when Mother was 19 and Daddy had just turned 20, they eloped.”

The story of all Native Americans has been pushed aside for too long, Warren said. “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.”

That story is about hope and resilience, she said. “And it is a story about pride and the determination of people who refuse to let their languages fade away and their cultures die,” Warren said.

The story is also about discrimination and neglect, mistreatment, and greed, she said. Warren also took another shot at President Trump.

“It is deeply offensive that this president keeps a portrait of Andrew Jackson hanging in the Oval Office, honoring a man who did his best to wipe out Native people,” she said.

Warren vowed to do more to help tribes with infrastructure and economic development. “It’s time to make real investments in Indian country to build opportunity for generations to come.”

In a text message to The Times, Andrews-Maltais said it was her pleasure to introduce Warren at Thursday’s event. “…To my knowledge she was the only politician there to receive a standing ovation,” Andrews-Maltais wrote.

In her remarks, Warren gave a shout out to the Aquinnah tribe, as well as the Mashpee Wampanoag, the state’s other federally recognized tribe. “It has been an honor to work with, to learn from, and to represent the tribes in my home state of Massachusetts,” Warren said.