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Centering White Voices Again: White Supremacy, Settler Colonialism and the fallout of white catholic boys disrespecting Indigenous people

January 22, 2019

What happened last weekend in Washington, DC, where white catholic school boys disrespected indigenous people was appalling and painful to see all over social media. In fact, most of what I have seen on my Facebook feed has been reactions to this incident.

The overwhelming response to this incident has been completely understandable. It was an act of disrespect, it was an act of ignorance and it was a manifestation of white supremacy.

However, most of the responses that I have seen still ends up centering white voices at the expense of Indigenous voices. In addition, the centering of white voices also distracted us from asking what it was that Indigenous people were doing in Washington, DC and what was the purpose of their march.

The #IndigenousPeoplesMarch was calling attention to the injustices faced by Native communities, including:

The epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women

• An “environmental holocaust” on Indigenous lands

• Voter suppression

Police brutality

This information and this narrative has been largely ignored by most media and white liberals who are incensed at the smug stare down that the white catholic school boys engaged in directed at Nathan Phillips.

Now, there has been some examples of indigenous voices being heard as a result of the white catholic maga hat wearing boys being disrespectful narrative. Here is a powerful observation from Nathan Phillips that was on CNN.

When they said, “Let’s go hit the drum, let’s go sing, let’s reclaim our space here” because this was the Indigenous Peoples March rally, and when these two groups came together and started that and I was witnessing as it escalated from just two small groups, then the other one just went back and got more people, went back and got more people, went back and got more people until there were over 100 people, maybe 200 young men there facing down what? Four individuals? Why did they need 200 people there other than it’s hate and racism? They had their target. They had their prey. And so I wish somebody would’ve been able to stand in front of the 7th Cavalry and my relatives at Wounded Knee. I wish somebody would’ve stood there and said, “No, you can’t do this.”

Nathan Phillips was calling out and naming what white people have been doing to indigenous people for hundreds of years. White people, through of system of white supremacy, have been killing indigenous people and taking their land. In addition, white christians have been using spiritual violence against indigenous people, forcing them to convert and then taking their children and putting them in boarding schools so they can, “kill the Indian and save the man.”

Another message that has been effectively drowned out, since our focus has been on the behavior of white boys, is to not have to deal with how some of the indigenous people responded to chants from the white catholic school boys, who said, “Build the Wall.” One powerful response was, “We don’t build walls on Native land.”

Kade Ferris, an anthropologist, blogger and enrolled citizen of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa in Belcourt, North Dakota, provided some important context to this issue. She said:

“Throughout history, indigenous people — including those in what is now Mexico and central America — moved freely across the land in search of greater opportunities. They knew where they could and couldn’t go and where they belonged. Borders were meaningless and were a concept that was imposed by the forces of colonialism … they are and always have been a way to try to control people.”

These two examples, both of which center the voices of indigenous people, completely reframes the narrative away from the offensive behavior of some white catholic school boys, (which was disgusting) and forces us to have to come to terms with our own complicity in the historic and contemporary ways in which white people have treated indigenous people for centuries.

While it is important to disapprove of the actions of the white catholic school boys, it is much more important to support indigenous people and the demands that they brought to the march in DC. These demands were not directed at white catholic school boys, they were demands directed at a political and economic system that is rooted in white supremacy and settler colonialism. If we claim to be in solidarity with indigenous people, then it is our task to dismantle white supremacy and settler colonialism, a task much more difficult than expressing outrage over the spectacle that the news media has amplified.

 

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