A series of panels were held in Torch Lounge on Feb 8. in response to the incident at the Lincoln Memorial between a Native American activist and students from Covington Catholic High School.
The teach-in was titled “A Teachable Moment: Indigenous Voices, White Innocence, and the Catholic Church.” It was comprised of four panels that discussed underlying issues indigenous people face by examining the viral video of Covington Catholic students wearing “Make America Great Again” hats, who were in Washington, D.C. for the annual pro-life March for Life, appearing to mock Omaha activist Nathan Phillips, who was singing and drumming.
Nick Sandmann, the main student in the video, said in a statement that he thought individuals were trying to provoke the teenagers and that he was attempting to diffuse the situation. A Diocese of Covington-sponsored investigation into the incident found “no evidence of offensive or racist statements” by the students. Phillips maintained that the students were disrespectful.
A second, longer video of the incident revealed that there was another group, unrelated to the Native American protestors, that hurled insults at the students prior to the confrontation with Phillips.
The panels were comprised of a diverse representation of both local and national indigenous people. The event was meant to serve as an open dialogue to better understand the issues that led to the altercation and was planned by the same coordinators of UD’s Native Peoples of America Colloquium that is held every November.
Dr. Shannon Toll, an English professor at UD and moderator of a panel, said, “We want to meaningfully engage with indigenous voices and to do the real work of social justice in our own communities. Events like these give us the opportunity to respond to issues in almost real time.”
The event extended well into the afternoon and was consistently crowded. Each panel was around an hour, and attendees regularly filed in an out of the discussion.
The panelists began by sharing their experiences seeing the video and voicing their concerns about how the incident was covered by the media. Most of the panel said they were not surprised by what happened.
“I actually live in Covington, Kentucky. We started getting word that these students were actually from Covington Catholic High School, and it started to make sense,” said Lance Soto, co-chairman of the American Indian Movement Indiana Kentucky chapter. “I have deep roots in this community. So I know the mocking. Even though this happened with kids from Kentucky this could happen in any neighborhood, in any city…This is not just a Covington Catholic problem.”
The panel criticized President Donald Trump’s administration and the Catholic Church and explained how both power figures played an indirect role in the altercation.
Senior graphic design major Meg Gramza learned a lot from the event.
“I really enjoyed listening to the speakers, they seemed incredibly knowledgeable,” Gramza said. “I wish we had more opportunities to interact with them and ask questions….”
While the panel did most of the talking, almost all of the panelists had pen and paper and jotted notes down throughout the discussions.
The last panel began with small group discussions, led by panelists and moderators, which created a space for people to share what they had learned throughout the day.
Guy Jones, a panelist and a founder of the Miami Valley council for Native Americans said, “I’m glad this forum is going on today because those are the conversations that lead to build bridges. And I hope the conversation that begins today continues for a long time.”
Photo courtesy of Kaya Taitano on Instagram.