"I see a bright, beautiful future if we want it..." ~ Nathan Phillips

Updated: Jan 21, 2019

I woke up bright eyed and bushy tailed upstate New York basking in warmth and coziness as I watched a beautiful blanket of snow coat the earth. I was on a high as I made my coffee in prep to write a blog about the 10th anniversary of the inauguration of President Barack Obama. I was excited and ready to go as I gathered photos and recalled sacred memories of my experience at the inauguration sitting with the Little Rock Nine, Tuskegee Airmen and a couple other million people. A smile stretched across my face as I relived the wonder and magic of attending the Neighborhood Ball - where I stood on a dais connected to the stage where Barack and Michelle Obama took their first dance as President and First Lady.

I opened a new blog template and literally froze because I could not shake the haze of hatred that infiltrated my soul after getting online yesterday. Nathan Phillips was on my mind. I regret that I came to know his name in the way in which I did - after young people assaulted him in a video that went viral. I decided that I had to put my fond memories of a more hope filled time (whether real or perceived) aside to face reality.

I was zen'd out listening to a podcast yesterday afternoon when my husband Hisham held up his phone with a look of horror and said, "Spirit, did you seeee this?" I was concerned by the look on his face so I scurried to find out what he was talking about. I glanced at his phone to see a video of a group of young white youth with red "MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN" hats taunting a Native American elder who was singing and drumming at the Indigenous Peoples March in Washington, D.C.

A simultaneous jolt of sadness and rage embroiled my whole body. As I continued to watch, one of the youth got right up in the elder's face with an eerily smug look of mockery as his friends and classmates laughed and jeered. My blood sizzled as I diverted my attention from the ignorance, racism and hatred to Nathan Phillips, an incredible person who withstood and resisted such venom and violence by continuing to sing and drum with dignity and grace.

The hashtag maga (not tagging it intentionally) was ablaze on twitter with thousands of posts - many using images of mob violence during the civil rights movement to juxtapose the ugliness. After digging, I went to the journalist, Vincent Schilling from Indian Country Today who broke the story after a youtube video shot by NC NOLAND went viral. Schilling's story read, "the elder is Nathan Phillips, an Omaha elder who is also a Vietnam-era Veteran and former director of the Native Youth Alliance. He is also a keeper of a sacred pipe and holds an annual ceremony honoring Native American veterans in the Arlington National Cemetery."

According to his article, "Vincent Shilling had been messaging back and forth with Nathan Phillips all day. "He was at a family member’s house in Washington D.C. unaware that his name was the top trending term on Twitter with over 315,000 tweets." He finally caught up with him via phone.

I'm just catching my second wind. Most of the day there were so many numbers coming in. I didn't know who they were and you know, I kinda got scared, I just kinda got nervous and thought, oh Jeez, who's this? And after the racist incident that happened a couple of years ago in Michigan, I got a couple of bad calls then. So I just kinda got nervous about answering the phone... I felt like I was sitting on the sidelines of my own experience. I realized where I was at when I was doing and it was an out of body experience. I thought “who is this guy?” I Woke up in the middle of it and thought, “What am I doing?” You know?... But this is the commitment when I picked up the pipe 27 years ago. It's for the next generation... Honestly. I'm still scared. I'm still feeling vulnerable. But I'm not gonna back down...But I feel like at that moment it was for me to do what I've always said in for a long time is that I'm expendable. You know, when I was in Vietnam times and when I was in the Marine Corps times, that's what I was. I was expendable. Expendable to corporate greed. You know, in all wars, especially the ones that are going down for the oil, you know, we're fighting against — the pipelines. Now that we're at a point where we've drawn the line, we’ve got to stand that line. All of us.

Full interview here:

An interview with Nathan Phillips on the #MAGAYouth incident

by Vincent Schilling with Indian Country Today

This story is all over the news but my purpose for this blog post is to THANK and HONOR Nathan Phillips for his powerful, graceful stance against racism and injustice...for his sacrifices and commitment to this grueling, treacherous, ongoing battle. I take this moment, and others like it on a daily basis, as stark reminders that we are nowhere near out of the woods in the United States - we are still chopping our way through the darkness of the brutal, unrelenting reality of racism. Young people are infected with the disease from an early age and it displays itself in moments like this. As Minnijean Brown Trickey says in her speeches, "Racism hurts ALL of the children. And, Ruby Bridges' motto is "Racism is a grownup disease, let's stop using children to spread it."

Through it all, Nathan Phillips is hopeful. We have to maintain hope in order to keep going. However, Nathan Phillips has forced me to press refresh in this moment on my own activism. I am constantly reflecting on my position in this history, my passion, my pain and privilege. It's times like this that force me to dive even deeper into my commitment to the movement in my own way - to keep waving a flag symbolizing this country's state of racial distress and the hard work that goes into it. I wrote today to honor the blood, sweat and tears of those who came before me who are STILL fighting today. They should not have to fight anymore, they should be able to rest and enjoy their lives as elders but they cannot and that's a tragedy. On the eve of Dr. Martin Luther, King Jr. Day, I'm reminded that even he would still be fighting today. And, on the 22nd we mark the National Day of Racial Healing...So, with my heart, passion, mind and the tools at my disposal I will do my part.

Those young people from that school, that song was a prayer for their future and my children’s future. We’re facing critical times and we’ve got to make choices...I see a future though. I do see a future. I see a bright, beautiful future if we want it... It's ours to pass on to the next generation, but we got to be willing for it. ~ Nathan Phillips.

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