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During an event at the White House honoring Native American World War II veterans, President Trump referred to Sen. Elizabeth Warren as ‘Pocahontas.’ Sarah Huckabee Sanders later said it’s not a racial slur.
USA TODAY

PHOENIX — After President Trump mockingly called Sen. Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas” at a Navajo Code Talkers event this week, layers of outrage swept Native American communities.

Navajos and others in Arizona denounced the remark as an unmistakable slur, saying it minimized the tragedies that marked the real Pocahontas’ life while distracting from the veteran Code Talkers’ contributions. 

They also skewered the tone-deaf backdrop for the comment: a portrait of former president Andrew Jackson, who earned the nickname “Indian killer” on reservations for his deadly policies. 

But the debacle also revived Warren’s controversial Native American ancestry claims, “something we deemed a problem a long time ago,” according to Native American-issues advocate Amanda Blackhorse. 

Warren — a Massachusetts Democrat who claimed Cherokee and Delaware tribal heritage based on family lore — isn’t the first person to make questionable claims of Native American ancestry.

The term “Pretendians” was coined to mock those who engage in the practice, from Johnny Cash and Miley Cyrus to Bill Clinton and Johnny Depp.

More: Trump calls Elizabeth Warren ‘Pocahontas’ while hosting Native American vets event

More: Is ‘Pocahontas’ a racial slur? Eric Trump defends his dad, but Native Americans say otherwise

In 2015, a full 68% of people who identified as multiracial in a national Pew Research Center study said they were part American Indian.

“There’s this sort of fantasy or ideal type of Native people want to be, based on what they see in Hollywood,” said Blackhorse, a Navajo Nation member who lives in Phoenix. “When it comes to our land issues, to our water rights, to the constant battle we have to face every single day, where are these people that claim to be Native?”

A persistent pattern

Tiya Miles, a University of Michigan professor specializing in Native American, Afro-American and African studies, said the U.S. “has a long tradition of non-Native people performing as ‘Indians’ and/or publicly laying claim to American Indian identities, especially in the aftermath of dispossessing actual indigenous people of their lands.”

False claims of Native American ancestry date back at least 120 years, when…