Native Americans

What do we know? Drum chants 3.0 at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception (updated)

What do we know? Drum chants 3.0 at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception (updated)

So what else happened after the 2019 March for Life?

At this point, do new developments matter? What are the odds of journalists managing to cover them in a calm, professional manner?

However, I think it’s crucial to keep paying attention and asking practical journalism questions.

So with that in mind, let’s turn to the Catholic News Agency — yes, a conservative Catholic news outlet — report about a tense confrontation at the faith’s most symbolic site in Washington, D.C. Here’s the overture:

While chanting and playing ceremonial drums, a group of Native American rights activists reportedly led by Nathan Phillips attempted Jan. 19 to enter Washington, D.C.’s Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception during a Saturday evening Mass.

The group of 20 demonstrators was stopped by shrine security as it tried to enter the church during its 5:15 pm Vigil Mass, according to a shrine security guard on duty during the Mass.

“It was really upsetting,” the guard told CNA.

“There were about twenty people trying to get in, we had to lock the doors and everything.”

The key phrase, of course, is this one — “reportedly led by Nathan Phillips.”

In light of the ongoing journalism train wreck surrounding the confrontation between Phillips and students from Covington (Ken.) Catholic High School, it’s totally valid to ask questions about sourcing on volatile information such as this.

What’s going on? If you read carefully, it appears that the “reportedly” reference is to draw a distinction between information that is clearly shown on videotape and information drawn from eyewitnesses.

Normally, journalists place a high degree of trust in eyewitness accounts — especially the testimony of participants in an event. However, these are not normal times.

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News in an age of rage tweets: Who needs to repent, after the Covington Catholic acid storm?

News in an age of rage tweets: Who needs to repent, after the Covington Catholic acid storm?

As this past weekend’s March for Life controversy began to escalate, I did what legions of other journalists and pundits did — I aimed a tweet at the young men of Covington Catholic High School and their leaders.

It was a rather mild tweet, as these things go. I said: “We can hope the young men repent and change. #MarchForLife holds out hope for repentance and healing.”

Later on, I also said that I thought it was time for politicians to take a lower profile at this annual pro-life event. I’m OK, with political leaders marching, but I’m worried about the high-profile speeches.

During the past day or two, lots of journalists have been taking down lots of tweets after this particular journalism train wreck.

However, I haven’t deleted mine — even after watching lots of alternative videos of this incident — for a simple reason. Based on my own life and sins, I have concluded that there is never a bad time for repentance. There may be Covington students who will want to go to Confession.

However, I’m still looking for video evidence of crucial facts — like the charge that students chanted “Build the wall!” and behaved in a way that threatened Native American activist Nathan Phillips or anyone else. I did see lots of young males acting like young males, which often means being rather rowdy (I never heard the Atlanta tomahawk-chop chant, but a few boys made gestures — while dancing around — that might be interpreted that way). Then again, there were Black Hebrew Israelites aiming bitter, obscene, homophobic chants and accusations at these students, who had gathered at a previously assigned location to meet their bus to ride home.

So what happened here?

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Catholic connection to Thanksgiving Day? That's a great story that is rarely told

Catholic connection to Thanksgiving Day? That's a great story that is rarely told

If Christmas is referred to as “The greatest story ever told,” America’s first Thanksgiving could very well be “The greatest story you’ve never heard before.”

The reason for that is because the first recorded Thanksgiving meal between the Pilgrims and Native Americans at Plymouth in 1621 may not have been the first of its kind. In fact, some historians say it actually took place more than 50 years earlier in St. Augustine.

Spanish documents, first highlighted by University of Florida Professor Michael Gannon, revealed that the first meal between European colonists and Native Americans on U.S. soil took place on the grounds of what is now the Fountain of Youth in 1565.

The city’s founder Pedro Menendez de Aviles and the colonists broke bread with the Timucua Indians soon after the Spanish made landfall on September 8. In Gannon’s book, The Cross in the Sand, he noted, “It was the first community act of religion and thanksgiving in the first permanent settlement in the land.”

De Aviles came ashore on that day and subsequently named the land St. Augustine in honor of the saint on whose feast day was August 28, the day Florida was first sighted by the ships. Members of the Timucua tribe greeted the fleet. Records show it was a peaceful exchange.

In his memoirs, Father Francisco Lopez de Mendoza Grajales, who celebrated mass that day, wrote: “The feast day [was] observed… after mass, [Menendez] had the Indians fed and dined himself.”

Although Gannon’s book was published in 1965, no one paid attention to it until 1985 when a reporter from The Associated Press called the professor looking for a new angle on the holiday. When the wire service put the article out for its member newspapers to print a few days before Thanksgiving, the story sent shockwaves across New England. Gannon was immediately dubbed, “The Grinch who stole Thanksgiving.”

The meal celebrated by the Spanish had already been planned as a feast to honor Mary, the mother of Jesus, and coincided with their safe arrival. Historians like Gannon have argued that the first real Thanksgiving didn’t feature Protestant separatists in Massachusetts, but Catholic explorers in Florida.

Gannon, a legendary figure among Florida historians, died last year at age 89. Gannon may have died, but the Catholic case for Thanksgiving lives on thanks to other historians, researchers and writers who argue the honor should go to Spanish settlers.

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Prayer or protest: Spirituality in events unfolding at Standing Rock 'prayer camp'

Prayer or protest: Spirituality in events unfolding at Standing Rock 'prayer camp'

I’ve been semi-following the Standing Rock protests in North Dakota this past month, but as far as I knew, it had little to do with religion.

Until now, as I just discovered a piece by a DC-based writer about “the growing indigenous spiritual movement that could save the planet.”

Well, I figured I had to read that. It’s from ThinkProgress, a 11-year-old “news site dedicated to providing our readers with rigorous reporting and analysis from a progressive perspective” (their words). It’s funded by the Center for American Progress, an advocacy group founded by John Podesta, chief of staff for former President Bill Clinton.

I don’t usually critique pieces produced by advocacy organizations on either side of the aisle, but, other than a commendable Sept. 16 RNS piece, I’ve seen very little on the spirituality aspect of these North Dakota protests. So let's look at this. ThinkProgress reports:

When Pua Case landed in North Dakota to join the ongoing Standing Rock protests in September, she, like thousands of other participants, had come to defend the land.
Masses of indigenous people and their allies descended on camps along Cannonball River this year to decry the construction of the Dakota Access pipeline, a series of 30-inch diameter underground pipes that, if built, would stretch 1,172 miles and carry half a million barrels of crude oil per day  --  right through lands Native groups call sacred.
“We are not here to be anything but peaceful, but we are here,” Case told ThinkProgress, describing the moment she linked arms with fellow demonstrators and stared down rows of police in Bismarck. “We will stand here in our tribal names in respect and honor.”
But while media attention has focused on the massive, sometimes heated demonstrations -- which include several alleged instances of brutality and dog attacks -- there has been less attention paid to how the protest is recharging the lager climate movement, not to mention the peculiar nature of the participants. Case, for instance, traveled quite a long way to the Peace Garden State: she is from the sunny shores of Hawaii, not rugged North Dakota, and she claims a Native Hawaiian identity, not a Native American one. And she wasn’t there just to protest; the sacredness of the land is especially important to her, so she was also there to pray.
“Standing Rock is a prayer camp,” she said. “It is where prayers are done.”

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Whose yoga is it? Journalists, proceed with care because the details matter

Whose yoga is it? Journalists, proceed with care because the details matter

One of my most uncomfortable experiences as a journalist was a story I did in 1995 to mark the 25th anniversary of Earth Day. I worked in Washington for Religion News Service at the time, and my task was to come up with a story with national appeal.

I decided to check in with Native Americans to learn what the day meant to them as members of a culture that non-Indians such as myself naively believed still held closely to traditional spiritual beliefs about humanity's place in a holistic world order. (In truth, there were dozens of distinct indigenous cultures spread across the Americas prior to European colonization.)

I'd connect environmentalism with indigenous beliefs for mainstream newspaper readers (RNS's main client base at that time). It was, I thought, a story sure to get widespread national play.

So I started making calls, beginning with the editor of Indian Country News, then the leading national publication covering Native American interests.

Did I get a tongue lashing.

What a silly premise, he told me. Poverty-stricken contemporary Native Americans cared more about day-to-day survival than Earth Day. Nor did he wish to indulge some white reporter's attempt to link contemporary environmental concerns with some generalized, romanticized and fantasized indigenous spiritual trope.

You took our land and now you're after our beliefs! I was, he bitterly insisted, committing cultural appropriation.

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