Concern from both liberal and conservative media outlets shifted from confronting the issue of Indigenous erasure — why were Native people marching in D.C. in the first place? — to defending the innocence of white youth.
By now, millions around the world have seen the viral video of dozens of Catholic schoolboys sporting “Make America Great Again,” or MAGA, hats tomahawk-chopping and mocking a Native elder, who was drumming and singing at the feet of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. Nathan Phillips, the military veteran and water protector from the Omaha Nation, waded into the crowd of high school students, as he tried to defuse a tense situation between the students and a group of black Israelites who were taunting Natives and passers-by with racist and homophobic comments. It was an iconic moment loaded with history. And what should have been a time of soul-searching for a nation founded on Indigenous genocide has instead morphed into an attack on Indigenous people.
The fault, however, is not with the individual acts of one white kid; it lies with how this story was told and how it has obfuscated a movement and history. That was the greatest loss in this tale: This episode being twisted in order to reverse and then ignore the larger narrative.
Journalists are often the first to write history — and they are also the first to rewrite it. We’ve seen how cops killing Black kids is made to look like self-defense, how children crossing borders become “illegals,” or how Native elders singing songs become violent aggressors.
It’s the founding myth of this country: The cowboy will always be surrounded by hostile natives to make colonial invasion look like self-defense. That narrative won’t end unless we stop telling that story.