As the President of the American Indian College Fund I share that we have nothing but pride and gratitude for the Native American Code Talkers, who are true heroes who used sacred Native languages to ensure our nation’s victory against despotism. These individuals are elderly now but their memories are still strong and tell a powerful story of sacrifice and patriotism. Our students value education and encourage us as their supporters to take every opportunity to educate others. I offer these words in the spirit of that encouragement.

The Code Talkers gave freely to this nation, the nation of their birth and their ancestors’ birth where they were subjected to prejudice, denied the rights to their land, their customs, their spirituality, and even the right to raise and educate their own children. The reverberations of those injustices continue today. And yet, without question, they gave freely so that we might be free to be who we are as individuals and as part of a healthy, productive society.

President Trump has repeatedly disparaged Native people, Native women, and our history by referencing one of this country’s senator’s claim to Native identity. I cannot speak to Senator Warren’s identity but I can speak to how we, as Native people, know that the person he refers to Pocahontas was a young Native woman who had a tragic and violent experience during colonial times. Her name is Matoaka and she deserves our respect.

His use of her name is intended by him to be a racial slur. It is not a joke to invoke the name of a young woman whose experience is so representative of the experiences of indigenous people. It was also disrespectful to the Native Code Talkers who have given so much for our nation and who were at the White House to be honored during Native American Heritage Month, a time in which we celebrate Native people and our cultures, languages, and contributions to this great nation.

We would all do well to emulate the Native Code Talkers, whose values are steeped in our Native traditions of strength and sacrifice over vainglory. It is their values and achievements in service of our country that deserve our true admiration, along with the grace they demonstrated during the ceremony.

Our veterans and Matoaka are part of our proud history as Native Americans. The American Indian College Fund works to preserve and teach their legacy alongside Native languages and culture at our tribal colleges and universities. The hard sacrifices the Native Code Talkers and our veterans made for their land and their nation have endured and will be remembered forever.

Cheryl Crazy Bull, American Indian College Fund