An Indigenous Reflection On Covington Catholic and Nathan Phillips

As things go, more and more of the story comes out as time passes. Almost everyone is talking about the confrontation between students from Covington Catholic and Nathan Phillips. The student who stood toe-to-toe with Mr. Phillips has been criticized as has his fellow classmates who stood by mocking Mr. Phillips’ indigenous chant. Here’s what I’ve read thus far and believe to be true.

The students from Covington Catholic were in D. C. for the March for Life which screen-shot-2019-01-21-at-4.24.18-pmcoincided with an Indigenous March as well. The students had some downtime as they awaited their buses and broke into groups to tour some sites. This group of students wanted to see the Lincoln Memorial and were confronted by Black Israelites—a group with which I’m unfamiliar. The Black Israelites were goading both the students and indigenous peoples present, so I’ve read. Because he was concerned that tensions would escalate, Nathan Phillips put himself between the students and Black Israelites. What appears as students confronting a peaceful native chanting was, in fact, a native chanting who put himself between them and another group in an attempt to maintain peace, but even other natives with him were not without fault.

Here’s what went wrong based on all that I’ve read:

  • As a group representing a school, I might have suggested that no one wear any political apparel that would be construed as endorsing any candidate. They are representing the school, not a politician. This is not an anti-Trump remark, but one I feel to merely be wise. Support the March for Life, because that is in tandem with their religious beliefs, as it is mine. They somewhat invited attention by wearing those hats, and not wearing them could have mitigated the issue only knowing how some might have responded to the apparel.
  • The students clearly mocked Nathan Phillips and his native chant, as well as indigenous culture. If you look closely enough at the video, the mockery appears in the forms of native dancing, tomahawk chops, and other such displays that have for years characterized and stereotyped indigenous culture. This is what disturbed me the most. I don’t care that they were white, Catholic, or Trump supporters. I didn’t like the mocking.
  • The natives came at the group hollering that they were on stolen land, and other such things, so the student himself wrote in a public response. Historically, the natives were correct, but to act hatefully about the matter over which these kids had nothing to do was wrong. That was racist on the part of the natives, and before anyone @’s me, my fifth great-grandfather led thousands of our tribesman on the trail of tears, so I’m well aware of the evil done in the 1830s and before and after. However, neither those of us living today perpetrated such injustices, and none of us today suffered through them though the results of diminished lands are what they are, sadly.

Everyone messed up and could have handled the situation better. The Black Israelites shouldn’t have been racist, the natives shouldn’t have been racist, and the whites shouldn’t have been racist. Everyone is entitled to their views, but to act hatefully or invite a confrontation is unnecessary. For those calling for a school shooting at Covington, shame on you! You are a part of what’s wrong with our society.

I’m 1/4 Choctaw, of the Mississippi Band. Though I am ineligible to be on the tribal roll, which demands 1/2 or greater blood quantum, I am very proud of my Choctaw ancestry and history. I’m an even higher percentage Scottish and am grateful for my ancestry and history. Kids will be kids, and these youths messed up but it isn’t a sum of who they are as people, and I’m glad that I’m no longer beholden to the mistakes of my youth than I would hope that those boys would be. This provides an opportunity for them to grow, and hopefully, the adults in this mix will learn from this too.

Not all white people are evil. Not all Trump supporters are racist. Generalizations of anyone in this scenario would be mischaracterizations. In this unfortunate event, people were people, and human nature and its flaws were on display. However, there was some good that we witnessed. The student who stood to face Mr. Phillips remained peaceful. Mr. Phillips’ motives were to maintain peace between two groups he feared could become hostile. The very two at the center of this matter should have served as an example to the whole group, and to us all. Peace is something lived. It doesn’t taunt. It doesn’t shrink from adversity. Peace can be maintained, and it should be something for which we all strive.

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