One of the most talked about news stories on social media and news sites recently had to do with a disturbing video of an Indigenous Elder and a group of young predominantly Caucasian teenagers in Washington DC. Video footage has shown the Elder, Nathan Phillips chanting and using his hand drum while participating in an Indigenous Peoples March as he walks peacefully into a group of young high school boys and is blocked by one of them. The boy is smirking at the Elder and his fellow students are making fun of Elder Phillips.
Most of these boys from a Catholic high school from Kentucky had been bused to the Lincoln Memorial near the White House as part of an antiabortion themed ‘March For Life’ rally and protest. The Lincoln Memorial is a popular place where protests take place and on this day there were several such events. Also at the pro-life protest was a group that calls themselves Hebrew Israelites who took part in an exchange of insults directed towards the Native group and also the high school students. In a video one of the Hebrew Israelites yells at the Indigenous group “You’re not supposed to worship eagles, buffaloes … all types of animals. This is the reason why the Lord took away your land.”
In the midst of this turmoil the Elder, who is also a American Vietnam War Veteran, claimed he decided to take his drumming and chanting into the group as a means to diffuse the situation. At that point the young high school boy blocked his way and his friends taunted the Elder. The boys had chaperons in the area who did nothing to stop any heckling and it should be noted that most of these high school pro-life boys were wearing Make America Great Again hats. Witnesses claimed that the boys were shouting chants, which included “Build that wall.” In the several videos, one of the boys is even seen gesturing a tomahawk chop to mock the Elder.
Myself and most Native people I know have been shocked at how much hate and racism seemed to come from such a young group of boys. Everyone hopes that at this point in time we would see more tolerance and a more openness in our world but that is not our reality. We are living in a time when the wealthy and powerful are pulling the same old tricks they have had success with for centuries. They promote hate as a means to put fascist power in place through governments. These days we see that this has worked well for them in the United States with a more or less fascist president, Donald Trump in power. The fact that hate is being promoted openly to change governments brings out the worst in us. Many people become caught up in negative, racist, bigoted and homophobic hate linked to issues like immigration, lack of employment and poverty. Fear and hate has been used by the wealthy and powerful to get their own way for a very long time and perhaps the most well known incidence of this was in the 1930s in Nazi Germany. We all know where that took the world.
I am sad to say that I really believe that we are living in times once again where this tactic is being used to put right wing, fascist governments in place all over the world. The crazy thing is that many people are falling for these nasty old tricks again and that is putting some very crazy stooges in powerful positions. Many citizens of countries and provinces are fearful of speaking their minds in the midst of hate. Right wing movements like the one that elected Trump can turn impressionable young boys into intolerant racists because they believe it is acceptable to think this way. Our youth learn from their adults and if the grown ups nurture a culture of hate, then their children will learn to believe that some people are better than others. In groups they can become threatening. All of this movement of hate is promoted by the very wealthy and powerful as a means to push forward agendas that have to do with privatizing things like health care, the prison system, education and all types of social assistance. They also want to put forth legislation that provides for less oversight and more profits for the wealthy.
None of these movements surprise me in a big way as I am a history buff and I see this rule by hate and fear as strategies that are as old as the hills. What shocked me the most was in seeing this young man and his fellow students having the confidence to confront and stare down a Native Elder and his drum. I can excuse the boys for what they did but I cannot ignore what the adults have taught these young men. Their parents, their teachers and their political leaders have taught them that it is acceptable to taunt and show no respect for an Elder or anyone else who follows a different set of beliefs or ideas. The laws in our countries agree that we all have the right to free speech but common decency should also allow us to show respect for one another. The ones who are to blame for this situation are the leaders who show others that this is acceptable behaviour. If we all allow situations like this to persist and propagate, then we are all to blame for not standing up and saying something about it.