Queens Powhatan and Pocahontas Democratic Club considers name change
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.”
The Astoria Democrats adopted the “Pocahontas” name when its women’s club, dubbed “The Pocahontas Regular Democratic Club” and men’s club, named “Powhatan,” merged in the 1990s.
“It is our understanding that the name was given in honor of Chief Powhatan, who led fights against the colonialists,” the club said in a statement. “After the club became a political club, a women’s club was also formed, and given the name Pocahontas, who was Chief Powhatan’s daughter.”
The decision to examine the club’s moniker arose from the “national conversation happening about race,” club President Andy Aujla said.
“Being a part of that conversation is important for us as a club,” he said. The club has over 100 dues-paying members, and “there are people who have been a part of the club, who are 80 years old, who grew up with this club. This club has been around 120 years and sometimes change takes long conversations.”
The conversation also comes as the borough’s Old Guard Democrats have undergone a reckoning in recent years, driven by Crowley’s shocking 2018 defeat at the hands of a then-relatively unknown progressive, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
Last month Queens Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas lost in a primary to Democratic Socialist-backed Zohran Kwame Mamdani.
Councilman Costa Constantinides said he believes the name needs to go.
“Yes, I think it should be changed,” he told The Post. “I know those going through this process will find a fair, equitable way to honor this club’s history without causing any more pain to our Native American brothers and sisters.”
Members will vote in October whether to change the club name.
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