A climate of fear and hate

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One of the most talked-about stories on social media and news sites recently has been the disturbing video of an Indigenous Elder and a group of predominantly Caucasian teenagers in Washington, DC. Video footage shows Elder Nathan Phillips chanting and using his hand drum while participating in an Indigenous Peoples March as he walks peacefully into a group of male high-school students and is blocked by one of them. The teen is smirking at the Elder and his fellow students are making fun of Phillips.

Most of these teens from a Catholic high school in Kentucky had been bused to the Lincoln Memorial near the White House as part of an anti-abortion themed “March For Life” rally and protest. The Lincoln Memorial is a busy 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 one 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 Philips, a 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 high school student blocked his way and his friends taunted the Elder. The students had chaperones who did nothing to stop the heckling. It should be noted that most of these pro-life teens were wearing “Make America Great Again” hats. Witnesses claimed that the students were shouting chants, which included “build that wall!” In several videos, one student is seen gesturing with a tomahawk chop to mock the Elder.

Most Native people I know are shocked at this level of hate and racism from a group of teens. 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 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 openly fascist president, Donald Trump. The fact that hate is promoted 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 best example of this was in the 1930s in Nazi Germany. We all know where that took the world.

The same tactics are used to help install right-wing governments all over the world. Sadly, many people are falling for these nasty old tricks and putting some very crazy stooges in powerful positions. Others are fearful of speaking out in the midst of such hate. Right-wing movements like the one that elected Trump can turn impressionable teens 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 only benefits the very wealthy and powerful who push agendas that include privatizing health care, education and eliminating social assistance. They also want to cut oversight mechanisms that keep governments accountable to the public.

What shocked me most was seeing this young man and his fellow students having the confidence to confront and stare down a Native Elder. I can excuse the teens for what they did but I cannot ignore what the adults have taught them. Their parents, teachers and political leaders have made it acceptable to insult and intimidate an Elder or anyone else who follows a different set of beliefs or ideas. We all have the right to free speech, but common decency should also encourage us to show respect for one another. If we allow situations like this to persist and propagate, then we are all to blame for not standing up and saying something about it.


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