The Highlander

The (un)forgotten Americans

Viral video summarizes Americas current treatment of Native American minority

Protesters+gather+at+Washington+DC%2C+on+Friday+Jan.+18.+Closets+is+Omaha+Native+Elder+Nathan+Phillips.+
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The (un)forgotten Americans

Protesters gather at Washington DC, on Friday Jan. 18. Closets is Omaha Native Elder Nathan Phillips.

Protesters gather at Washington DC, on Friday Jan. 18. Closets is Omaha Native Elder Nathan Phillips.

MikeSpeaks

Protesters gather at Washington DC, on Friday Jan. 18. Closets is Omaha Native Elder Nathan Phillips.

MikeSpeaks

MikeSpeaks

Protesters gather at Washington DC, on Friday Jan. 18. Closets is Omaha Native Elder Nathan Phillips.

Isaac Lamoreaux, Reporter

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Twitter awoke to a firestorm just days prior to Martin Luther King Jr. day, to a video of a sneering teenager staring down a Native American elder singing while beating a ceremonial drum. The event took place at the Lincoln Memorial, where 56 years ago, King said, “I have a dream that my four children will one day line in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” Half a century later, students of Covington Catholic High School who were present would continue to degrade and belittle the minority.

To briefly summarize the situation, a group of Hebrew Israelites (an African American religious movement whose members believe they are Gods chosen people) were harassing those who passed by, most from the Indigenous Peoples March, who were wrapping up for the day. At the same time, students from Covington Catholic High School were waiting for their busses after a march for life rally. The Hebrew Israelites began to insult the large group of teenage boys. In response, the boys began performing some of their school chants. Tensions heightened. That’s when Nathan Phillips, a Native elder from the Omaha Tribe, intervened. Phillips approached the group of students while performing a spiritual prayer of respect and honor. That is when the notorious standoff between Phillips and junior Nick Sandmann occurred.

I argue that, although what Sandmann did was both disrespectful and worrying, the much more troubling aspect of the videos that surfaced was what the whole group of teenager did in response to Phillips. Doing the tomahawk chop, “singing along” with Phillips, and acting like his prayer was some rave by jumping up and down, is nothing short than disgustingly disappointing. In addition the students performed problematic “chants,” including performing the Maori Haka — the traditional war dance that the New Zealand All Blacks rugby team uses to intimidate opponents. Is this an act of school spirit as interpreted by more conservative media? Or perhaps it was to help the group of students feel less afraid.

Their actions can be summed up as a reaction to something that the students of Covington Catholic just did not understand. Their ignorance and utter disrespect for Native culture is the more probable cause for this viral conflict. These boys are exposed to only what they have seen, a forgotten, untamed people of an America that once was during the Wild West. Although they are old enough to be accountable for their actions, our society, which currently revolves around the white majority, has taken the Native point of view out of the picture, just as America has done in the past. This dangerous neglect of educating children about the Indigenous population in America will continue to result in a lack of understanding, and a lack of respect.

News coverage of the event has turned towards the responses of the students, and investigations of the twitter profile responsible for posting the video out of context. The media is slowly trying to change the perception that, even though there was indeed a disrespect of Phillips and his culture, that the young men were not guilty of anything serious. This is especially true with traditional conservative media, making the unhinged group of teens the victim, claiming that Phillips targeted the group. Even if Phillips did target the group of teenagers, it was their responsibility to treat Phillips respectfully, as a Native, an elder, and a citizen of the same country.

There are two great takeaways from this event: the first is acknowledging the perspective of the Indigenous People. We must be aware that what this group of teenagers did was wrong, even if they claim that they do not need to apologize for their actions. We must understand that Phillips, his culture, tradition, and way of life have the right to be respected and revered as a part of America’s history. The mistreatment of Indigenous People is a tragic chapter in our country’s history, one that must not be forgotten or rewritten. Giving them a proper platform, in whatever form that might be, would help combat ignorance and obliviousness of the Native Americans. We must respect our Indigenous minority, and recognize value in Phillips’ part in the event that transpired on the steps of a memorial to a president who wanted to see a country guided by our better angels. We must realize that those angels were not guiding those teenagers that day.

The second takeaway is a question. How do we react? Not the media, not Covington Catholic, but you, the reader. I suggest this: no matter who you are, regardless of your background, ethnicity, race, religion, sexuality, nationality, or gender, we must come together as a country. This conflict is an example of America’s polarized state, and the groupthink mentality that will ultimately destroy us. We must love and respect one another while acknowledging and celebrating our differences. Although our current leadership might think twice before supporting this motion, it is up to us. In the immortal words of King, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

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