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Native American elder Nathan Phillips, in his own words



Phillips described what he felt was hatred coming from the young people in the crowd, who has pupils at Covington Catholic School in Kentucky and who had traveled to the nation's capital to attend the March for Life rally, also held Friday.

Here is the transcript of Phillips' interview, which has been slightly edited for flow and content:

CNN: Tell us what happened, what happened between you and the young people who were all standing around you? How did you end up surrounded by this group of young people with the MAGA hats on?

Phillips: There was a disturbance there on the Lincoln Monument grounds. We were finishing up with the Indigenous Peoples March and rally and there were some people there who expressed their rights there, freedom of speech. … Then there was this young group of young students who came there and were offended by their speech, and it escalated into an awful situation that I found myself in the middle of. Yeah, I found myself in the middle of it, kind of woke up to it.

CNN: You just sort of decided to try and stop this or at least have an impact on it, calm the waters. Is that right?

Phillips: Yes, that's the impression that everyone has, and I guess that's what I was doing. I did not realize that's what I was doing. When I started taking these steps and using the drum, it was just a spur of the moment. I do not like to say that way, but it was just, "What do you do? What do you do now?" Here's a moment where something that's really ugly in our society, in America, something that's just come to a boiling point, as they say. Does that make sense?

CNN: Sure. Phillips: Yes.

Yes.

CNN: What happened? Phillips: When my young friend came up there said, "Let's hit the drum", because there's a point where it just got to really a crescendo, I think they say it sometimes, but it was like the thunder, the storm was coming.

CNN: What did you feel like you were witnessing? Racism? Well, hate. What I'm saying is that when these folks came there, these other folks were saying their piece, and these others got offended with it because they were both just expressing their own views. And if it's racism, that's what it was because the people who were having their moments there, they were saying things that I did not know if I agreed with them or not, but some of it was educational, and it was truth, and it was history about religious views and ideologies, but these other folks, the young students, they could not see it. They had one point of view, it seemed, and that was that their point of view was the only point of view that was worthwhile. And that's what I was feeling.

CNN: Phillips: I think so. I think that was the push, that we need to use the drum, use our prayer and bring a balance, bring a calming to the situation. I did not assume that I had any kind of power to do that, but at the same time, I did not feel that I could just stand there anymore and not do something. It looked like these young men were going to attack these guys. They were going to hurt them. They were going to hurt them because they did not like the color of their skin. They did not like their religious views. They were just here in front of the Lincoln ̵

1; Lincoln is not my hero, but at the same time, there was an understanding that he brought the Emancipation Proclamation or freed the Slavs, and here are American youth who are ready to, look like, lynch these guys. To be honest, they looked like they were going to lynch them. They were in this mob mentality. Where were their parents? Because they were obvious and a student group. Where were their –

CNN: Chaperones?

Phillips: Yeah, chaperones. Where were they? What were they doing? Why did they allow them to come to such a boiling point? To allow such hate and racism, just to be – just to be, and not teach them that this is wrong. America's foundations, freedoms, the reason white people came to this country for freedom of religion, freedom of speech. Not to allow these men to have their freedom to say what they felt was hurting them as a people, as a religion. I was listening to what they were saying. I was there for a different purpose.

CNN: Let me ask you about what happened to you. These boys are in the middle of this group and you find yourself surrounded. How did that happen and what did that feel like a person standing face to face with a young man who seems to be staring at you or glaring at you? How did you describe that moment?

Phillips: When I was there and I was standing there and I saw that group of people in front of me and I saw the angry faces and all of that, I realized I had put myself in a really dangerous situation. Here's a group of people who were angry at somebody else, and I put myself in front of that, and all of a sudden, I'm the one whose all that anger and all that want to have the freedom to just rip me apart, that was scary. And I'm a Vietnam veteran and I know that the mentality of "There is enough of us."

CNN: The young man who was standing in front of you, what was he doing and what he was trying to do as you were playing the drum. Were you fearful? Were you trying to leave?

Phillips: That was exactly the thing that I was there. I saw the mass of people. I did not know where I was and what I was doing, and I realized there were other people with me and I did not want them to get hurt because there were 100 plus of these young men who were well-fed and healthy and strong and ready to do harm to someone. And they just wanted that point of "This is it" and spring. If this young man thought that was that point and what I was trying to do, I realized where I was at. I needed an out. I needed to escape. I needed to get away. I needed to retreat somehow, but the only way I could retreat at that moment, is what I see, is just to go forward, and when I started going forward and that mass of groups of people started separating and moving aside to allow me move out of the way or to proceed, this young fellow put himself in front of me and would not move. If I took another step, I would put my person in his presence, into his space and I would have touched him and that would be the thing that the group of people would have needed to spring on me. Because if I would have reached out with my drum or with my hands and touched him, that would have given them – I did that. I struck out, and that's not what I was doing. The song I was singing, the reason for it, was to bring unity and bring love and compassion back into our minds and our beings as men and as a protector of what is right. I was raised away from my family. I was put in foster care so I did not have a traditional indigenous upbringing. I was brought up just like these young guys were brought up. Well, maybe I was not a Catholic school, but I was a public school. And when I went back to my reservation and asked questions – "Do you have an Indian name? Do you know where I could get some moccasins?" … I wanted to know, and that cousin of me that was sitting there, standing there and I was asking him these questions. He says, Go home, white boy. "That hurt

CNN: Phillips

: I do not like to say the word hate I do not like to have it in my heart, around me It's just not a thing I want to carry with me I did not hate at one time I CNN: Does he feel like you hate to you because the kids will say, "Oh we were just chanting our school chants (19659002) Phillips: I'm sorry, I do not think I'm sorry. I do not know what I'm saying, I'm sorry I do not know what I'm saying, t accept their "I'm just chanting a school chant."

CNN: Was there fear? … Phillips: 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 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 out there looking down what? Four individuals? Why did they need 200 people there than hate and racism? They had their target. They had their prey. And so I'd like somebody to be able to stand in front of the 7th Cavalry and my relatives at Wounded Knee. I wanted someone to stand there and said, "Well, you can not do this."

CNN: We were talking about the issue between these two groups, the one was the black Israelites and the other were these mostly Caucasian young men. You were standing there and they were standing around you chanting. … How did you feel? What did you think they were kind of doing to you or what are your feelings? Their response has been we were just chanting our school chants and we were not jing or we were not making fun of anyone. We were just standing around and it just happened to be in the middle of our group, it's kind of like they say it's gone. How did you feel about it?

Phillips: I felt like I denied them their prey. I felt like I deny them their prey and so they were going to take it out on me.

CNN: Were they being hateful, just bottom line? Did you feel hate from this group of people? Did they feel like they were being aggressive?

Phillips: I believe that's all I could feel, and I do not like feeling it. … Fear, not for yourself but for the next generations, fear where this country's going, fear for those youngsters, fear for their future, fear for their souls, their spirit, what they're going to do to this country.

CNN: One of the things they said was we were not protesting against Native Americans. We were there for the March for Life and we were just chanting – and this is kind of putting the blame on you – and that this person came into our space and we were just getting all hyped up. Do you buy that?

Phillips: Not in the least.

What happened?

Phillips: They were looking for trouble, looking for something. Everybody knows the right to life and (pro-choice), it's been like this and they're hateful to each other. And that's because I'm a veteran – I'm a Vietnam veteran – that these two groups even have the right in this country to have protests, to have conflicting opinions. If they were doing that, they should have done that and then when they came in public, that was not the place for that. That was a public forum where we were at. We were still under the protection of our permit for the indigenous people rally.

CNN: You're just what you're trying to push off, which is basically, "We were just chanting our school chants and this person came into our space and we were just being happy-go- lucky kids. "

Phillips: No, not happy go lucky. If they were happy go lucky, we would have been laughing and enjoying each other's presence and company because that's the kind of thing I like to do. I like to meet people. I like to find out where they're from, what they're up to, in a good way. But what was going on there, there was nothing happy go lucky about it. It was just "Build the wall" and some of the things that I heard but I can not really say I just heard that because it was way over there, and they could say, "Oh, no one said that. us who said that. " So it's one of those he-said, she-said, things and what I'm saying is that they were very aggressive and they were very ready to hurt somebody. They just needed a reason. Whether I was the one who defused it or not, I would not have been able to do it with my relatives who were with me at the time. My other brother that was singing and the (inaudible) that was standing with me at that time. There were sons of us who were indigenous, we stood together.

CNN: Do you have one last thing to say, one message to these students that you would like to give to them? … Also, thinking of them as a kind of high school student, they're young. How did you get them to know what you feel like and what would you like to know about your experience with them?

Phillips: Yeah, I'll pray for them. That's what the whole part was was a prayer. The use of the drum, the song, that was a prayer. What I said to them at the end was, "Relatives!" and I got their attention and I said, "Make America great." They said, "How?" What they were doing was not making America great. … the whole idea, the spirit of America, that was not it. That was not an American spirit that they were putting out there.

CNN's Eliott C. McLaughlin contributed to this report.


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