Queens Powhatan and Pocahontas Democratic Club Considers Name ChangeHistorians in the News
tags: Democratic Party, Native American history, public history
The progressive re-naming movement is knocking on the door of the Powhatan and Pocahontas Democratic Club of Queens — and the 120-year-old Queens machine stronghold might just answer.
The club — long a home base for traditional Democrats like former Rep. and party boss Joe Crowley, state Sen. Michael Gianaris and Borough President Melinda Katz — announced it’s establishing a committee “that will formulate justifications both for and against the name change.”
For Native Americans, the choice is clear.
“They shouldn’t use Pocahontas,” said Chief W. Frank Adams, of the Mattaponi Tribe, one of eight existing tribes today linked to the Powhatan confederation of Virginia. “Powhatan, he was a chief, a leader, so I don’t have any problem with that. Pocahontas, she was his daughter, a child. She was an ambassador for her people in some way, but she wasn’t a hero, so no, I don’t think they should use her name.”
While Pocahontas was made famous in the 1995 Disney film, the story of a romance between the Native American icon and settler John Smith has been debunked by historians.
Pocahontas, whose real name was Amonute, was 10 years old when the English arrived in what would become Virginia in the early 17th century. The colonists kidnapped and raped her, forced her to marry an Englishman and return with them to Britain, historians say. Despite the abuse, she was said to be a liaison for her tribe with the English.
Columbia professor Mae Ngai, co-director for the school’s Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race, called the use of Pocahontas’ name “clueless.”
“It’s offensive, having a Democratic club with a name like that. It’s like the ‘Washington Redskins,’” she said, referring to the NFL team. “Naming sports teams and clubs is a kind of racist romanticism of Native Americans. It has nothing to do with history.”
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