President Trump has been sarcastically calling Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren Pocahontas for a long time now. This references the senator’s possible Native American ancestry.
Pocahontas is an Algonquian woman who saved the life of John Smith the founder of a colonial settlement in Virginia in the early 1600s.
In a recent Fox interview a Republican congressmen named Matt Gaetz used the name of another First Nations woman to refer derisively to Senator Warren just after she announced she was exploring a possible run for the American presidency. Mr. Gaetz called her Sacagawea.
I learned about Sacagawea in Woodbury County Iowa a few years ago when we stopped at a travel rest area which also housed a History Discovery Centre.The centre was a tribute to Lewis and Clark. It told the story of these adventuresome explorers and extraordinary journal keepers who were sent out by President Jefferson to map the Missouri River and evaluate its feasibility as a commerce route. The floor of the Iowa history centre was designed to look like the Missouri River.
There was a mural of a woman and her baby on the wall of the centre. A brochure I picked up informed me her name was Sacagawea and she was a sixteen year old mother who traveled with Lewis and Clark. The daughter of a Shoshone chief, she was captured by Hidatsa Indians when she was twelve. They sold her to a French Canadian trapper named Toussaint Charbonneau who made her one of his wives. She and her husband were hired as interpreters by Lewis and Clark. Her son Jean Baptiste was born on the expedition and was later adopted and educated by Clark.
The benches outside the Iowa rest stop were designed to look like the birchbark keel boats the Lewis and Clark expedition traveled in. One of these boats capsized on the trip and it was Sacagawea who jumped into the water to rescue the precious journals that contained Lewis and Clark’s detailed notes and drawings of the wildlife, plants and First Nations tribes they encountered as well as maps of the river and regular entries about all their adventures.
Thanks to the Clark and Lewis journals we know about Sacagawea’s other contributions to the expedition. She served as an interpreter, was skilled at finding edible plants, helped choose good spots to camp and her presence and that of her child served as a symbol of peace with the various First Nations tribes the expedition encountered.
Sacagawea has been immortalized on an American stamp and her image is on a dollar coin issued in 2000. There are American rivers, lakes and mountains named after her. Dozens of statues of Sacagawea can be found in various American cities.
It is somewhat ironic that members of the Republican Party are trying to poke fun at Senator Warren by referring to her using the names of brave women of native ancestry who helped shape American history. Perhaps their sarcasm serves only to mask the fact that they are scared of the way Ms. Warren might shape American history too should she be elected President of the United States in 2020.