Entornointeligente.com / By Antonio Olivo and Antonio Olivo Reporter covering government, politics and demographics in Northern Virginia Email Bio Follow Cleve R. Wootson Jr. Cleve R. Wootson Jr. General assignment reporter covering national and breaking news Email Bio Follow January 19 at 4:22 PM The images in a series of videos that went viral on social media Saturday showed a tense scene near the Lincoln Memorial.
In them, a Native American man steadily beats his drum at the tail end of Friday’s Indigenous Peoples March while singing a song of unity for indigenous people to “be strong” in the face of the ravages of colonialism that now include police brutality, poor access to health care and the ill effects of climate change on reservations.
Surrounding him are a throng of young, mostly white teenage boys, several wearing Make America Great Again caps, with one standing about a foot from the drummer’s face wearing a relentless smirk.
Nathan Phillips, a veteran in the indigenous rights movement, was that man in the middle.
In an interview Saturday, Phillips, 64, said he felt threatened by the teens and that they suddenly swarmed around him as and other activists were wrapping up the march and preparing to leave.
Phillips, who was singing the American Indian Movement song of unity that serves as a ceremony to send the spirits home, said he noticed tensions beginning to escalate when the teens and other apparent participants from the nearby March for Life rally began taunting the dispersing indigenous crowd.
A few people in the March for Life crowd began to chant “Build that wall, build that wall,” he said.
“It was getting ugly, and I was thinking: ‘I’ve got to find myself an exit out of this situation and finish my song at the Lincoln Memorial,’ ” Phillips recalled. “I started going that way, and that guy in the hat stood in my way and we were at an impasse. He just blocked my way and wouldn’t allow me to retreat.”
So, he kept drumming and singing, thinking about his wife, Soshana, who died from bone marrow cancer nearly four years ago, and the various threats that face indigenous communities around the world, he said.
“I felt like the spirit was talking through me,” Phillips said.
The encounter generated a wave of outrage on social media less than a week after President Trump made light of the 1890 Wounded Knee massacre of several hundred Lakota Indians by the U.S. Cavalry in a tweet that was meant to mock Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D), who Trump derisively calls “Pocahontas.”
[ Trump invokes one of the worst Native American massacres to mock Elizabeth Warren ]
In a statement, the Indigenous Peoples Movement, which organized Friday’s march, called the incident “emblematic of our discourse in Trump’s America.”
“It clearly demonstrates the validity of our concerns about the marginalization and disrespect of Indigenous peoples, and it shows that traditional knowledge is being ignored by those who should listen most closely,” Darren Thompson, an organizer for the group, said in the statement.
Chase Iron Eyes, an attorney with the Lakota People Law Project, said the incident lasted about 10 minutes and ended when Phillips and other activists walked away.
“It was an aggressive display of physicality. They were rambunctious and trying to instigate a conflict,” he said. “We were wondering where their chaperones were. [Phillips] was really trying to defuse the situation.”
[ A march takes on new meaning in the age of Trump ]
Some of the teens in the video wore sweatshirts from Covington Catholic High School in Park Hills, Ky., which sent students to Washington to participate in Friday’s antiabortion March for Life event, according to an archived page of the school’s website that was taken down on Saturday.
On Saturday, school officials did not respond to messages for comment.
Laura Keener, spokeswoman for the diocese of Covington, said officials there are investigating.
“We are just now learning about this incident and regret it took place,” Keener said in a statement. “We are looking into it.”
Phillips, an Omaha tribe elder who also fought in the Vietnam War, has encountered anti-Native American sentiments before: In 2015, Phillips was verbally attacked by a group of Eastern Michigan University students who were dressed as Native Americans during a theme party near the town of Ypsilanti, according to news reports.
Phillips had approached the group, informing them that their celebration was racially offensive, a local Fox News station reported. One of the students threw a beer can at him, Phillips told the news outlet.
But the incident on Friday, combined with the ensuing attention from media outlets scrambling to get his story, left him shaken.
“I’m still trying to process what happened,” Phillips said. “I’m feeling a little bit overwhelmed.”
Joe Heim contributed to this report.
LINK ORIGINAL: Washington Post