Saskatchewan woman attends rally in support of ridiculed Omaha Elder
- EFN Staff | January 24, 2019
When she started out on a trip to Washington, DC for a Grassroots Global Justice meeting, Saskatchewan entrepreneur Michelle Brass didn’t know she would end up at a rally for an elder and veteran who was ridiculed by a group of non-Indigenous teenagers at a march.
On Friday, January 18th at the Indigenous Peoples March in Washington, an Omaha elder and Vietnam veteran Nathan Phillips was drumming and singing at the Lincoln Monument where a group of Covington Catholic High School students stood in front of Phillips. One kid in particular, Nick Sandmann, stood face to face smirking at Phillips.
“I was sad, disappointed, frustrated and angry,” said Brass, who runs her own business as a health and life coach where her work is focused on supporting Indigenous women to create more health in their lives as well as doing presentations on Indigenous food sovereignty, climate change awareness and action. “I watched how Nathan conducted himself and tried to respond in a way that was calm from a place of dignity.”
Videos of this incident suddenly went viral and made national headlines. It was only the day after when Brass was aware of what had happened. The group she was with decided to attend a rally in support of elder Phillips. Brass felt it was an honouring and an important experience to be a part of.
“I felt it was important to go. I was in Washington and I was physically capable of going. I really felt it is important to stand up for the love and dignity of our people,” said Brass. “When there has been any kind of an injustice, that we do need to stand up against to any expressions of hate. Nathan Phillips didn’t respond in an angry or aggressive manner.”
The students wore red ‘Make America Great Again’ (MAGA) hats which Brass felt was slightly overlooked in dialogues from this incident.
“These hats are a symbol of hatred,” she said. “Maybe other people don’t perceive it that way, but I do. As an Indigenous person and someone who stands with marginalized peoples and social justice, these hats…[are] a part of a story that needs to be discussed.”
Days later, Sandmann released a statement stating he believed that by remaining motionless and calm, he was helping to diffuse the situation.
“I said a silent prayer that the situation would not get out of hand,” according to his online statement. “I was not intentionally making faces at the protestor. I did smile at one point because I wanted him to know that I was not going to become angry, intimidated or be provoked into a larger confrontation. I harbour no ill will for this person [elder Phillips].”
Afterwards other videos that surfaced the internet which showed the events that happened prior to the Phillips and Sandmann face to face moment. According to Brass and Sandmann’s accounts of the incident, there were a few others that were protesting and had allegedly started the whole thing. Despite the chanting mocks of Phillips singing and drumming, he remained peaceful and continued to sing his prayer songs.
“I truly believe [Phillips] had the intention of diffusing a potentially intense and violent situation,” said Brass. “He sets an example for how we need to be walking in the world and standing up with love and kindness to create a better world. His example of going in with prayer songs as a way of confronting hate is the most appropriate response.”
Brass felt so much respect for Phillips on how he handled himself and believes this incident is a lesson for everyone to learn from.
“He expressed his sadness, disappointment and his fear but I never saw him become aggressive, angry and lash out,” she said. “I hope this whole incident that we can learn from it is that it’s important to stand up to expressions of hatred and to stand for social justice and to maintain our dignity…the way we should respond is the example that Nathan Phillips has demonstrated. That’s why I went to the rally [for Phillips] to stand and support him.”