Made ‘mockery,’ Native elder offers dialog to besieged Catholic youth
By Talli Nauman
Native Sun News Today Contributing Editor
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Feeling mocked by Catholic high-schoolers during an incident at the historic first Indigenous Peoples March here January 18, a Native elder offered to defuse tense fallout by holding a dialog with them in their hometown of Covington, Kentucky.
“Race relations in this country have reached a boiling point,” said Omaha Nation elder Nathan Phillips, following the incident on the Washington Mall, in which he said he used his part in a closing ceremony prayer song to neutralize aggression brewing between the teenagers and a small group of Black Hebrew Israelite men.
“It is sad that on the weekend of a holiday when we celebrate the life and legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., racial equality hostility occurred on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial where King gave his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech more than five decades ago,” Phillips said.
Martyred in 1968 five years after his famous speech at the March on Washington, King is celebrated nationally every year for preaching non-violence and civil rights defense.
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The Catholic students, some sporting hats with U.S. President Donald Trump’s slogan “Make American Great Again,” and the other religious persuasion began arguing after the boys’ school participation in the annual anti-abortion March for Life.
Phillips said he approached and stepped between the two groups “in an effort to quell the burgeoning conflict through spiritual song,” indigenous march organizers related in a media release.
Video recording of the moment shows one teen staring down Phillips as he drums and sings, while others chant and gesture with the “tomahawk chop” characteristic of sports fans cheering teams such as the Chiefs and Seminoles that use denigrating Native American stereotypes as mascots.
“Unfortunately, the behavior by the students that ensued was understood by me and those native people with me as a mockery of our cultures,” said Phillips.
Now, he says he’d like to use what occurred as a teachable moment. He’s offering to travel to Covington Catholic High School in northern Kentucky “to have a dialog about cultural appropriation, racism, and the importance of listening and respecting diverse cultures.”
Phillips said he also is seeking a meeting with Vatican officials—ideally Pope Francis himself, who has apologized to American Indians for the “grave sins of colonialism.” The Omaha man proposes they discuss roles the church might play in reconciling the Catholic community worldwide with indigenous people.
“We feel that there is a distinct lack of understanding and appreciation of native peoples and traditions within many nations -- and that it’s time to address the indecency of culturally appropriating our ritual movements and songs for the enjoyment of non-native peoples,” said Phillips.
“When those actions occur, they are racist and wrong. When they occur in front of native people as a form of mockery, like what happened Friday at the Lincoln Memorial, they are completely unacceptable.”
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Catholic leaders considered the occurrence a teachable moment, too. The Diocese of Covington and Covington Catholic High School released a joint statement criticizing the students’ behavior.
“This behavior is opposed to the church’s teachings on the dignity and respect of the human person. The matter is being investigated and we will take appropriate action, up to and including expulsion,” the January 19 statement said.
“We know this incident also has tainted the entire witness of the March for Life and express our most sincere apologies to all those who attended the march and all those who support the pro-life movement.”
Louisville and Kentucky’s Metropolitan Archbishop Joseph Kurtz condemned the “shameful actions” of the students from the all-boys’ school.
Contact Talli Nauman at firstname.lastname@example.org
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