Even When Feeling Pressure, Nathan Phillips Bravely Kept Singing

Nathan Phillips kept drumming.

Guest Commentary

I met Nathan Phillips, the Omaha elder, who was in the center of the singing and drumming at the Lincoln Memorial, at Standing Rock in 2016. He was right there fighting with us as a warrior fighting to protect our water.

After watching him at Standing Rock, I have a lot of respect for him as a Vietnam-era veteran and warrior, teacher and pipe carrier.

We had the last ceremony there before the Oceti Sakowin Camp was closed down by Dakota Access Pipeline. We were on the frozen Cannonball River with guns pointed at us singing the American Indian Movement Song.

This song was given to Raymond Yellow Thunder who was brutally murdered in the border town of Gordon, Nebraska. He was the grandson of Chief American Horse. The American Indian Movement (AIM) came to ensure those responsible were prosecuted for his death. The song was given to the Yellow Thunder Family in 1972. Because of the circumstances the Northern Cheyenne people gave the song to AIM. It has since been an honor song, a victory song and the AIM anthem of the American Indian people.

This is the same AIM song Nathan Phillips was singing at Lincoln Memorial to defuse the situation between two factions: Black Israelite people and high school students who were in a shouting match. Nathan Phillips’path was blocked and he was surrounded when he began singing the AIM song.

The feeling of being surrounded happened to us at Standing Rock. To me and many other Native people, the “Make America Great Again” red caps were a symbol of oppression, ethnic and cultural genocide, stolen land and stolen waters. Even when feeling pressure, Nathan Phillips bravely kept singing.

Beatrice Menase Kwe Jackson, Last Days at Standing Rock: photo by Charlie Wren

Beatrice Menase Kwe Jackson, Last Days at Standing Rock: photo by Charlie Wren

The Indigenous Peoples March was planned to hear the voices of our Native American missing and murdered women. No one seemed to listen.

We had the area Lincoln Memorial’s Reflecting pond reserved for the Indigenous Peoples March. Those Black Israelite people and high school students disrupted the end of our event. We attempted to end in prayer and singing. Nathan was to sing the AIM Victory Song. He was trying to make his way to the steps to sing and was blocked and surrounded.

The disruption of two groups shouting at each other is not easy to solve. I wonder where was security to prevent interference from dissident disrupting groups, Where was the Lincoln Memorial security?

What has to happen?

It is said that a nation is not finished until the hearts of the women are on the ground. Our women are not finished; we are standing strong. We will work towards the true intention of the Indigenous Peoples March. We will work for change and a time when there are no more missing and murdered Native women, men and children. We will stand behind our men and sing with them and they will be strong too.

It is all about respect, honor and doing what is right.

Beatrice Menase Kwe Jackson (Tsimphean, Nicola Anishinawbe) is Grandmother of the Three Fires Midewewin Lodge.

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