Catholic Split on Indigenous Peoples Clear

By Sinclair, Niigaan | Winnipeg Free Press, February 2, 2019 | Go to article overview

Catholic Split on Indigenous Peoples Clear


Sinclair, Niigaan, Winnipeg Free Press


International headlines were made in Washington, D.C., last month, when Nathan Phillips, an Omaha elder and U.S. military veteran, attempted to defuse a conflict between students from Covington Catholic High School and members of the Hebrew Israelites.

Attending the Indigenous Peoples March, a demonstration at the National Mall intended to bring awareness to global injustices against Indigenous nations, Phillips tried to calm things down by singing a traditional song and walking between the two groups.

Phillips was then surrounded by the Covington group and confronted by a Grade 11 student wearing a red “Make America Great Again” hat.

Nick Sandmann stood in his path. Some said the teen was smirking, satisfied; Sandmann said he was trying to “defuse” the situation.

Regardless, Sandmann’s fellow students openly demeaned and mocked Phillips, performing “tomahawk chops,” while chanting slogans such as “Build the Wall” and “Trump 2020.”

Phillips said it felt like “hate unbridled.”

While the Covington students had been provoked by the Hebrew Israelites (Black Americans who believe they are descendants of the ancient Israelites), the scene of Catholic youth openly and proudly degrading an Indigenous elder became a worldwide phenomenon.

The question of where were their teachers, chaperones and parents was often asked by talk show hosts.

That’s simple: nearby, not stopping them. In other words, allowing it to happen.

Much has been written about this encounter and I won’t rehash it. Few, though, have noted one important story laid bare: the relationship between the Catholic Church and Indigenous peoples.

It is highlighted in the contradictory response from Catholic leaders and the allegiance the church has chosen with Donald Trump, the U.S. president known for openly mocking Indigenous Peoples and genocides such as Wounded Knee.

In the waking moments of the Washington encounter, Rev. Roger Joseph Foys, bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Covington (which oversees the students), issued a joint statement with other bishops of Kentucky.

“We condemn the actions of the Covington Catholic High School students towards Nathan Phillips specifically, and Native Americans in general, Jan. 18, after the March for Life, in Washington, D.C. We extend our deepest apologies to Mr. Phillips. This behaviour is opposed to the church’s teachings on the dignity and respect of the human person.”

A few days later, Foys retracted his condemnation and said the church was “bullied and pressured” into making a “premature statement.” He announced an investigation into the incident, and stated: “It is my hope and expectation that the results will exonerate our students so that they can move forward with their lives.”

So much for the open mocking of Indigenous Peoples being “opposed to the church’s teachings.”

Upon speaking with local Catholics, I am told the Catholic Church in Canada is different and it has done a lot to rectify relationships with Indigenous Peoples. …

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