I personally get vehemently angry when people call me “Pocahontas”, as if that’s some sort of compliment or ongoing joke for them. I want you to see where I am coming from before you get to thinking that I am just another “angry Indian on the warpath.”
From an outsiders’ perspective, you may think that it is okay to refer to any Native American woman as Pocahontas, because she is the only pop culture reference that you can refer to for Native Americans. But please, before you pull a Donald Trump (National Post), maybe you should research the uncensored, non-whitewashed, pre-Disneyfied history of Pocahontas and the Jamestown settlers.
I am going to lay it down for you. Pocahontas was captured as a young child by the English settlers who were at Jamestown. They held her for ransom. She was tortured and raped by her kidnappers. After forcibly being converted into to Christianity and eventually settling into the colonist society, she was used as a model for the “civilized savage.”
There are some girls who think that this is the ultimate compliment for a Native American girl, but if you really think about it, how much of a compliment could it be?
In modern times, Native American women are continuously disrespected as humans. 1 in 4 will be raped/sexually assaulted in their lifetime; some multiple times. I do not particularly like to talk about this, but as one of those 25%, I do not appreciate the comparison to such a negative past. The term “Pocahontas” is just an eerie reminder of what everyday life is like for Native American women. Mind you it's 2016, not 1616 anymore. The savagery of such a personal assault should not persist, or at least not go unpunished, and yet it does.
Speaking of savagery, this concept of the “civilized savage” makes the comparison to Pocahontas even more disheartening. After 500+ years of resistance towards the colonization of Indigenous peoples, the last thing any Native American wants to be compared to, or describe as, is the “civilized savage.” We may not have spoken English or Latin, read the Bible, or built castles, but we also did not enslave and cannibalize our enemies like the kings and bishops of the civilized world.
You may not even be calling me Pocahontas as an insult, but it is the equivalent of calling an African-American “Rosa Parks” or a Jewish person “Anne Frank”. They might have great stories of triumph, resistance, and perseverance, but we are not them. They all have pasts that should not be dishonored.
Our hair may flow in the wind when it is not tied back. We may have a melanin content that you are not used to in your secluded whiteness of mainstream society. We may have grace and strength and determination and perseverance. We may be a lot of things, but we are not Pocahontas.