It has been nearly a month since Omaha Nation alumnus Nathan Phillips and Nicholas Sandmann, a white student at Covington Catholic High School, appeared to clash on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington. Phillips was there for the Indigenous Peoples March and Sandmann for the March for Life. A passerby captured the moment when Sandmann seemed to smirk at Phillips, then posted it on Twitter. The image quickly sparked a fire hose of indignation. Soon videos shot from multiple angles surfaced, revealing that Sandmann and his male classmates had already been taunted by another group, the Black Hebrew Israelites. Videos also showed Covington students engaged in tomahawk chants and chops to the sound of Phillips playing the hand drum. And suddenly the story got more complicated. For many, the extra videos were proof that the teenager and his classmates were victims and not perpetrators of racism. The calls to move beyond the debate have been swift. But a lot of native people said, âNot so fast. For Rebecca Nagle, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, there were many lessons for educators. Education week Editorial intern Sasha Jones recently sat down with her to discuss it.
Many argued that it was time to move on from the meeting between the group of students at Covington Catholic High School and members of the Indigenous Peoples March. Why is it still being talked about, and why should educators still be thinking about it?
NAGLE: I think there’s a lot to be learned from this in terms of what educators and what our education system, in general, can do better. I think the behavior of the students at Covington Catholic High School, while unhappy, is not uncommon and reflects broader issues within the media and pop culture, but also K-12 curriculum, and what people are learning about Native Americans and what people are ‘t.
What’s your response to critics who say it’s because some white students don’t often meet students of color that they don’t know how to behave? Do you think this is fair?
I can’t count how many times someone has said to me, âOh, wow, you’re the first native person I ever metâ. And you know what I’m saying to that? This is probably not true. This is just the first time that you are aware of it, because you meet native people all the time, we are just invisible. So, you don’t come to the conclusion that the person you meet is Native American. There are over five million Indigenous people in the United States. The vast majority of us do not live on reserves. We are in an urban area. We are in the suburbs. I think it’s useful for students to be exposed to people who are not like them to develop tolerance and also to learn. But you shouldn’t have to have these experiences to treat people who are different from you, in my opinion.
In your opinion, what is the responsibility of schools to teach tolerance?
I think there is a huge responsibility for educators to teach tolerance. I think the idea of ââK-12 education is that we prepare young people to be good citizens. I think tolerance is absolutely necessary for this. Beyond what we teach students about individual behavior and how they should act, I think it’s important that we teach them about systems. What happened in the interaction between high school students and Nathan Phillips is systemic because this is how aboriginal people are treated all the time. The dehumanization these boys learn comes from systems. We need to teach them how they work, what their impact is and what can be done to change them.
As you said, these incidents are not necessarily rare. What would you say to those who, in your words, have the privilege of not having experienced them?
Listen to the natives. Aboriginal people experience this type of racism on a daily basis, and we know what it is. In this moment of reflection, I think for this learning to happen, Indigenous voices really need to be centered, to be heard and to be believed as well. When people say, “I know what this look is because I was the recipient of it” – it’s not only Indigenous people, but also people of color and a lot of women – people have to listen to this experience. , their lived experiences.
Bullying and racism happen all the time in the classroom. How can educators prevent this kind of situation from happening?
We have to teach the students to intervene. It’s not [about] teach people how to be a white savior. But we need to teach, especially white children, when they see someone white (it could be a peer, a family member) say or do something racist, how to challenge that behavior and how to have conversations. difficult. . It can be a scary time to call someone that way, so I think teaching people real skills to have those tough conversations is something I think most of our schools leave out of the curriculum. Part of being a good citizen of a diverse country, diverse city, or diverse community is being able to learn these skills, instead of just ignoring it or walking away, to speak out against it. this pain.
The interview has been edited for length and clarity.