As we continue to look at the video that has gone viral showing a group of Catholic high school students apparently mocking an indigenous tribal elder near the Lincoln Memorial, we speak to Chase Iron Eyes, an activist and lead attorney for the Lakota People’s Law Project. He is a spokesperson for the Indigenous Peoples March.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman in Los Angeles, with Juan González in New York.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We continue to look at the video that has gone viral showing a group of Catholic high school students apparently mocking an indigenous tribal leader near the Lincoln Memorial. The students, many of whom were wearing “Make America Great Again” hats, had just attended the March for Life. Omaha elder Nathan Phillips was attending the Indigenous Peoples March.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined now by Chase Iron Eyes, an activist, lead attorney for the Lakota People’s Law Project, spokesperson for the Indigenous Peoples March.
Thank you for joining us from South Dakota. You just came back from Washington, DC, Chase. You were there. I mean, this was the end of the march, well after, but you witnessed what took place. Now the world has seen the video. And some have said, well, this whole story changed once the young man in the video, who is smiling in front of Omaha elder Nathan Phillips — once he issued a statement saying that he was not hostile, he was trying to defuse the situation. Chase, can you describe what you watched, where you were standing?
CHASE IRON EYES: Yes. Thank you for covering this, again, and thank you, for Nathan, for offering his song today and on Friday, right after the Indigenous Peoples March, the first inaugural.
I’m not quite sure what time it was when the whole incident went down, because we had finished our march early. And we had a permit to be there at the Lincoln Memorial. It would have ended around 5:00, so it would be interesting to look at the time frames. Nonetheless, where the indigenous singers, including Nathan Phillips, including Raymond Kingfisher and about four other supporters — I mean, they were very small in number, and they were closing out the ceremonies, because that was — I was standing right there near them, waiting for my daughter, who was at the top of the Lincoln Memorial. Now, at the top of the Lincoln Memorial, it’s a good, you know, 100 meters away from where Nathan Phillips was, and even where the Black Israelites were.
The Black Israelites were just trying to offend any and everybody who came within earshot of them. And so we expelled them or denied them from our space at the Indigenous Peoples March. They were trying to speak, but we said, “No, just go over here. And, you know, as long as you’re not trying to exert violence or come into our space anymore, we’ll leave you alone.” So that’s what we did. And you’ve got to realize that the Black Israelites and the Native people were at the bottom, the very bottom, of the Lincoln Memorial.
The MAGA swag hat-wearing kids, who were attending a different rally, here’s a hundred or so frenzied, young men who are attending a rally to deny women the right to assert sovereignty over their own bodies. They were brought there by the Covington Catholic Church. They were all donning their little MAGA swag hats. And the truth is, they were roaming around there for a long time. I don’t know how many minutes, but the new video surfaced of the Black Israelites, you know, doing what they did and offending everybody they possibly could. But other video also surfaced showing the MAGA swag kids verbally accosting passersby, women, others, appropriating the haka dance and so forth. And if you could — if there was drone footage possibly of a hundred-foot view, you’d be able to see that the MAGA swag kids, the Covington Catholic kids, invade the space of where Nathan and the Black Israelites are standing. And so, they come closer to the Israelites and are there being disruptive, being very loud. It’s a very tense situation. When they get closer, I move away. I actually moved away from, you know, close proximity, because I was honestly concerned for my own safety, and at that time I did not know where my daughter was.
But now you have PR firms. You have people trying to spin this each and every way, even in mainstream media. And people are looking past the fact that there was a racially charged environment. You have young kids who are representing the President of the United States Donald Trump’s campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again.” We’re in a country that — where Native Americans, or the original civilizers, tribal nations, however you want to term that, we occupy — we have to occupy a certain space in the American imagination, the Western imagination. We are — according to that mythology, that worldview, we are the savage, we are the primitive, we are uncivilized, we are antithetical to progress. And so, if you combine that with the mascotry, with the caricaturization that exists with not only institutions, including Hollywood, and all the educational materials that are out there, that tell us, you know, Indians were half-naked roaming the plains, they weren’t civilized, this land was pristine, it was virgin, it was manifest destiny, it was our God-given right to come out here, you know, Indians kind of showed up at Thanksgiving and blessed us with the first meal — you know, this is the history that we learn. This is part of our identity, part of our mythology. Our cultural mythology as Americans contemplates the genocide of American Indians, the slavery of black folks.
And so, we’re in the nation’s capital. You have a president who constantly uses Pocahontas as a racial slur and also a denigration against the epidemic of missing and murdered indigenous women, because Pocahontas was a victim of child rape and kidnapping. Then you have the president making light and being flippantly dehumanizing and offensive about our genocide here in Lakota Country. You know, my family literally survived Wounded Knee. And so, when he says the things he does, he gives license to young, impressionable minds. And though — you know, through all this spin, our elder, Nathan Phillips, sought to offer his song, his prayer, his peace, to prevent a violent situation. And that’s what happened.
AMY GOODMAN: So, Chase, we don’t have much time. We don’t have much time, but I wanted to ask — you were there. You saw all the students there from the Kentucky Covington Catholic high school. Did you see adults? Were you concerned the situation was going to get out of hand?
CHASE IRON EYES: I was very concerned that it was going to get out of hand. It was like a tinderbox. There were so many youth jumping up and down, jeering. It was a mob frenzy. They were ridiculing. They were exhibiting nothing but contempt and scorn for one of our elders, who was offering a peaceful and prayerful song. And I looked for adults. If they were there, they were wearing MAGA hats, too, and encouraging this delinquency that these young people — and I’ll give them that: When I looked at them, I saw young children, impressionable young spirits and minds, who need right now, at this time, rather than fight over all the spin and all the angles and facts and controverted everything, we need the adults in the room. That includes our elder Nathan Phillips. That includes the archdiocese of the Covington Catholics. That could potentially include Pope Francis. Donald Trump is tweeting about it. We have a very special and tremendous opportunity to let the spirit guide the political, racial, social discourse that we’re engaged in here, in a fight for the heart and soul of our country right now.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Chase, Chase Iron Eyes, I wanted to ask you — you’re talking about the importance of adults stepping up. There were two — there are now two Native American women in Congress who weighed in on what happened. Can you talk about the importance of their being in the new Congress?
CHASE IRON EYES: Yes, well, we don’t have to convince them that tribal sovereignty is a good thing, that missing and murdered indigenous women need to be tracked, they need their voice amplified. We don’t have to educate them of how the patriarchy objectifies and oppresses females worldwide. We support them in ending the government shutdown. We support AOC, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, enforcing a Green New Deal. We feel that, as tribal nations, our Green New Deal is a million years old. And we’re glad to see more than a hundred new women in the halls of Congress completely changing the energy and the dynamic. As you can see, you know, some of those forces are trying to, quote-unquote, “rein in” AOC, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. But now more than ever, we here, in tribal nations, on the streets, on the rez, at the grassroots level, need to be as loud as we can, project as much positive force as we can, so they know that they can be as bold as we know they want to be.
AMY GOODMAN: Chase Iron Eyes, we want to thank you so much for being with us, activist, lead attorney for the Lakota People’s Law Project, spokesperson for the Indigenous Peoples March.
This is Democracy Now! When we come back in 30 seconds, The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee. We will speak with the author, David Treuer. Stay with us.