ADDENDUM: Given that this story has been contextualized since this post was published, I wanted to add a couple of things. At the time I wrote this, I did not know of the small group (4-5) of Black Hebrew Israelites who, as can be seen on video, were clearly harassing both the small group of Native Americans as well as the larger group of Covington Catholic students. That harassing behavior appears to have influenced the subsequent actions of both groups. Additionally, I originally wrote that Mr. Nathan Phillips was a Vietnam veteran. I have added the word “era” to my original post to reflect that while he served during the Vietnam War, he did not serve in Vietnam. Other than adding that one word, I stand by my original post, even after having read much commentary and having watched a significant amount of video from other vantage points. I believe the students from Covington Catholic acted very inappropriately on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and I believe their chaperones failed them.
Yesterday in Washington, DC, the March for Life took place. I know from the Twitter that lots of kids were there with lots of support from the adults that brought them to our nation’s capital in protest of a women’s right to choose. Conservative commentator Laura Ingraham posted a photo of a group of smiling white teen boys at the march with the caption, “They are our only hope.”
Fast forward a few hours and we are seeing the ugly underbelly of “our only hope.” A disturbing video of a group (some would say mob and they would not be wrong) of students from Kentucky’s all boys Covington Catholic High School who were attending the March for Life is making the rounds on social media channels this morning. The boys are seen chanting and taunting and mocking and surrounding and intimidating a small group of Native Americans staging their own protest at the simultaneously held Indigenous Peoples March.
The first time I watched the video, I cried. The second time I watched it, I resolved to show it to my ten year old and use it as a teachable moment. The third time I watched it, I dusted off my keyboard and started researching and writing.
The older gentleman playing the drum is a Native American elder named Nathan Phillips. Mr. Phillips is a Vietnam era veteran who lives in Omaha. He is also the former director of the Native Youth Alliance and coordinates an annual ceremony honoring fallen Native American veterans at Arlington National Cemetery.
You can see the grace and resolve in which Mr. Phillips, known in the Native community as Uncle Nathan, continues beating his drum in the face of his teen harassers. He does not back down, he is not intimidated, he does not debase himself or his community by engaging with these, lets call them what they are, thugs. To the contrary, Twitter also informs me that the chant Mr. Phillips was singing was a medicine song meant to calm anger and toxicity.
Watch the video and see for yourself:
Reports from those on the scene describe that Mr. Phillips and a small group of Native Americans were leaving the Indigenous Peoples March when they came upon the group of 50-70 kids, many of whom were wearing MAGA hats and Trump gear. Quickly, the group of Covington Catholic teens surrounded the group and started taunting them, mocking the Native chants, and hooting and hollering.
In this America where the President frequently mocks a Senator by calling her Pocahontas, none of this should surprise, but the visual of these white teens acting so hatefully, full of ugly bravado, is still jarring to me.
When we teach our children that it is acceptable to mock, taunt, intimidate, and harass, they will never Be Best. When the adults around them cheer on bigotry and walls, that stink trickles down to the humans we are raising, as can be seen in the feverish ode to ugly these boys from Covington Catholic displayed yesterday.
If you are parenting white children, I don’t care how old they are, watch the video with them. Teach them what is and is not acceptable behavior. Teach them some actual history of Native Americans and how the U.S. government has treated tribes throughout its existence, and not what children are taught at Thanksgiving.
I’ve got no doubt that if you are like me, you won’t know the actual history. There is no shame in that, as most of us were never taught it. So, yes, it will require a bit of effort on your part. To get you started, Google things like Wounded Knee, Trail of Tears, the Pickering Treaty, or Custer’s Last Stand.
I first got interested in researching this history when my family took a road trip through South Dakota a few years ago. Now I regret never having written a post about that trip, but the title I was going to use still stays with me, “The Shadows of South Dakota.” Perhaps it’s not too late.
After you’ve watched the first video with your kids, I strongly encourage you show them this one, with Mr. Phillips reflecting on the harassment he experienced yesterday perpetrated by the Covington Catholic boys:
Again, Nathan Phillips shows his humanity, the humanity lacking in those teens, wishing that they would put their energy into something more productive than mocking, taunting, and intimidating Native elders, to use their youth and energy into “making this country really great.” The kind of great that has nothing to do with wearing red hats and participating in mob behavior.
I only hope that I can conjure the hope and grace that Nathan Phillips does when I watch these videos with my sons. May you do the same.