Why I Walked in This Year’s Indigenous People’s March

2019 Indigenous People’s March banner (Photo: Anoush Ter Taulian)

I was covering the Indigenous People’s March in Washington, D.C. for the Armenian Weekly, when international headlines were made. According to reports, Covington Catholic High School students from Kentucky wearing Make America Great Again hats mocked Nathan Phillips, an Ohama elder, as he was playing his drum and singing. The video of this interaction went viral. Early reports by a student of University of Washington, D.C. say the youngsters were chanting the words “build that wall.”

While international news coverage focused on the debacle with the teenagers, there was much more to the day. The Indigenous People’s March was organized by a coalition of indigenous people to stand up to racism and make visible their histories, struggles and actions. The march of 5,000 started with a prayer circle at the Department of the Interior building, which used to be the Department of War building where US military officials used to plan genocidal attacks on native nations. The day was filled with fiery speeches by a number of influential figures from indigenous communities across the United States.

Demonstrators were first greeted by Gabrielle Tayac, a historian and curator at the Smithsonian National Museum, who welcomed the crowd to “Piscataway land,” referring to the once powerful and populous tribal nation that made up the Chesapeake Bay area. “The bones and blood and hopes of our people were taken violently,” explained Tayac. “Now we are in the time of water. The water is rising and so are we.”

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There was also a speech from Roberto ’Mukaro’ Borrero, an artist, musician, writer and leading authority on ancient Taíno culture. Taíno is the name of the people and language native to the Caribbean (including Puerto Rico) that existed prior to colonial invasion. “They said we were extinct,” said Borrero, “but no one can make us vanish. We are our water, fire, air and earth. We are one heart, the fire inside of us.”

Mary Lyons, an Ojibwe Grandmother of the Sacred, also spoke. “We celebrate our lives today. Share in the breath of humanity. Today the truth behind hidden histories awakens. Millions of our ancestors are with us. Our footsteps are a drumbeat that will always be here.”

Native women held tremendous power in their matriarchal communities. Women were leaders and were considered sacred, but when the colonialists’ leader refused to deal with them, the women grew disempowered. Native Americans were continually oppressed by US government corruption. They became US citizens in 1924 and only were allowed to vote in some states in 1948. Today, Native women are reclaiming their leadership roles. For example, there are two Native women in the House of Representatives: Deb Haaland, a Laguna Pueblo from New Mexico, and Sharice Davids, a member of the Ho-Chunk nation in Kansas.

Congresswoman Haaland said, “I campaigned for the environment, to heal the earth. We are living in a terrible time. The Dakota Access Pipeline and the Keystone XL will pollute our sacred water. Trump allowed mining on Big Bears Ears Monument, which will pollute this sacred site. The longest shutdown in history is creating massive hardships in Native communities. We have to elect people who care about us.”

Ruth Buffalo, the first Native American woman elected to the North Dakota Legislature, was also at the rally. She unseated Randy Boehning—the primary sponsor of a voter-ID law that has disenfranchised some Native Americans. She talked about the problem of missing and murdered Native women. She was on the search team looking for 22 year-old pregnant Savanna Greywind. They found her dead body on Buffalo’s birthday. It was a case of fetal abduction. The infant was discovered in the murderer’s house. Buffalo said she would work for all kinds of justice.

Vanessa Pastrana of Bohio Atabei Caribbean Indigenous Women’s Circle, a Taíno by blood, spoke at the event, and explained her rejection of the colonial name Puerto Rico (Spanish for “land of riches”) and reclaims its indigenous name, Borinquen (which means “noble and proud” in Taíno). Pastrana says, “We are still fighting being a US colony.”

Amanda Blackhorse’s group—Not Your Mascots—was protesting the disrespect of Native identity in American culture (i.e. naming cars Cherokee, cartoonish Halloween costume stereotypes of Indian princesses and caricatures, like the Tomahawk chop). When describing the group’s withdrawn litigation against the owner of Washington, D.C.’s NFL team the Redskins, she said, “While the oppressors are waiting for us to disappear, our voices only got louder.”

The Shinnecock nation, a tribe of historically Algonquian-speaking Native Americans based at the eastern end of Long Island, New York, was also represented. In 1640, the Shinnecocks were put in the stockade by their colonial oppressors if they spoke their language. Now the Shinnecocks are protesting the ultra-exclusive Shinnecock Hills Golf Club that was built on their ancient burial ground. Their reservation also has polluted well water from fertilizer runoff in the Hamptons. Nicky Banks, a former trustee, spoke at the event: “We can reveal our current memories of genocide and teach the colonizers their own history of genocide.”

The rally was packed with over 70 speakers and performers, including Martha Redbone and multimedia artist Johnnie Jae of A Tribe Called Geek. Fortunately, the Indigenous People’s March and rally was videotaped by the Lakota People’s Law Project.

At the march where we can see signs of each other’s struggles, I was carrying my signs which advocated for Armenians’ indigenous rights. Because of this, I was happy to meet another Armenian, Sophia Armen, an organizer concerned with the liberation of Southwest Asian/North African Peoples. Before the genocide, Armenia was listed as Western Asia.

I do a lot of educational outreach work about the Armenian Genocide and was curious if the newly elected Native women had heard about it. When I asked Congresswoman Haaland, she said she would look into it. Representative Buffalo said she didn’t know about the Armenian Genocide, but would welcome information.

The Indigenous People’s Movement is building a worldwide coalition for indigenous people to join together to stand up to similar oppression. It begins by sharing information about our cultures and histories. I felt moved when Rufus Kelly, a NottoWay of Southampton, Virginia said he had heard about the Armenian Genocide and started to educate himself about it.

As a token of hospitality, one of the organizers of the march, Hope Conoy, gave me a shell. She was holding an eagle feather. She said they were extinct from the Chesapeake Bay but have now come back.

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Anoush Ter Taulian

Weekly Columnist
Anoush Ter Taulian is a graduate of the University of California Berkeley. In 1992, she decided to relocate to Artsakh where she volunteered in the liberation struggle alongside Monte Melkonian. She has depicted the Armenian struggle for freedom in poetry, paintings, videos, and radio. A lifelong activist speaking in schools, churches, and at anti-racism conferences, Anoush continues to bring up current attacks on Artsakh at indigenous, women's, and political conferences.
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22 Comments

  1. FAKE NEWS!!!! After putting a black mark on this young teenagers’ life with the news reporting on a small clip of the video, those who watched the whole video saw that this youth reacted with class and respect towards Mr Phillips who was agressive and disrespectful to the youth. This is another example of the crooked media. Where are the apologies???this

  2. Sad to see my people eating up this liberal propaganda of inclusiveness and intolerance but in fact they are the most intolerant ones. All the fake news doubling down on their lies, not for this teenager smearing, but for years of dishonesty.
    We Armenians stand for traditional values but yet appealing this demonic cult of liberalism within the Democrats.

  3. While I am happy for your support of the Indigenous People’s March, however, trying to push your darling liberal media agenda to suck everyone into the victim hierarchy is not right. Natan Phillips himself is a liar, alcoholic, and in and out of jail many times. Someone who has made anti-capitalism and anti-cop videos supporting violence and the death of cops. Always making fake claims to get attention and his 15 minute fame.

  4. shame on you for standing up to these mongols. they are not indigenous people of America. If you would only read the table of nations in Genesis, you will see we Hyes are of the Japheth tribe. As a nation, we accepted our King, Christ. The mongols settled in America after they slaughtered us there. Some made it down to central and south america. Don’t you get it? White genocide is happening all around us and you go to support these cucks? typical liberal from berkeley. I forgive you all since we Japheths are God’s children. Stop lifting Satan’s “kids” goats over your own blood. this age is ending soon and when Father returns, he will spread the truth of who is who and even tho you supported such wicked people, God will forgive you.

    • Adrinejan, Many Native people’s in America reject the myth that they crossed the Bering strait. They have ancient histories and are not related to Mongols.

  5. Native American Nathan Phillips was the antagonizer at the Lincoln Memorial. He has been untruthful about his military service and quite a lot more. He has sadly shown us that not every “Native American elder’ deserves our respect. And the so-called truthful media outlets have shown us how easy it is to smear Catholics – unjustifiably.

  6. Don’t fall for the trolls claiming that Nathan Phillips came to the march to make trouble. Amy Goodman interviewed him and he explained exactly what happened.

  7. Let’s get the facts straight.

    The incident in DC did not mock the Native American/Indian drummer.

    What happened was that a truly crazy extremist group, the Black Hebrew Israelis, started yelling swears and insults against the Catholic high school boys who were minding their own business.

    Then the Indian went up to the boys and started banging his drum for no discernible reason.

    The boy simply stood there respectfully and smiled at the Indian and his drumming. The boy did nothing wrong.

    The Catholic school boys were assaulted, in effect.

  8. I am glad that finally some of you are speaking out against these insanely leftist out-of-touch-with-reality, radical bolshevik barrage of articles that hit these pages recently, mostly by the same author.

    I was going to suggest that the “higher ups” at the Armenian Weekly/Hairenik Press re-read their own history to re-discover who they are ‘supposed’ to be, and what kind of ideology they are ‘suppsed’ to adhere to. One ideology not on the table with certainty: bolshevism/communism/marxism or whatever else you want to call it.

    Also, my message to you well-meaning but misguided Leftists as always. For your own health and safety, de-program yourself from Western Liberal Leftist Propaganda and steer clear of it in the future. If you are not in too deep and mentally ill already, Leftism will, with a high degree of certainty, lead to that condition.

    As Armenians, your only path to relevance in the culture is to embrace our traditional culture and our traditional values.

  9. I have great admiration for Anoush Ter Taulian’s volunteerism and respect her sacrifices and activism when it involves and pertains to Armenian causes and Artshak’s right to self determination and independence.
    But I am confused, puzzled and struggling what these causes have to do with:
    -South African Solidarity
    -Haiti’s colonial wounds
    -Indigenous people
    Ms. Taulian is a free person and can support any cause her heart desires, but her attempts to tie them to our Armenian causes and struggles are definitely not connected and unreasonable; there are no fundamental political ties or connections.
    She can be liberal in her leanings , but needs to be balanced and avoid playing the leftist Fake News.
    Vart Adjemian

    • lol… Et tu, Vart?

      Just last week you told her not to listen to the “Mr Hagop’s of the world and carry on what she’s doing”… and that’s what she’s been doing apparently. Perhaps you now see the writing on the wall.

  10. People will see events like this through the colored lenses they wear.
    Anoush clearly believes in “Freedom and Justice for All” and will not support hate and disrespect of any culture.
    We are ALL connected and tolerance is what is missing in most of these comments.
    Have a little love for one another and “the connection” to all will be clear.
    Thank you Anoush, for walking with me and teaching me about the plight of the Armenian Indigenous. God Bless You!

  11. If any of the ultra-conservative, racist commenters on this article had been Turks in 1915, would they have opposed the Armenian genocide? I highly doubt it.

    • And what gives you the idea that “ultra-liberals” as yourself and other SJWs are not capable of being a racists?

  12. Vartjan, Thanks for your comment. I can see the connection between South African’s Nelson Mandela’s Spear of the Nation the armed wing of the ANC’s freedom struggle and the Artsakh armed liberation struggle I was in.
    Armenian are in the worldwide history of slavery, my grandmother having been a sex slave in a Turkish harem. When I do multicultural educational work to Haitians about the Armenian Genocide, Haiti’s slave revolt and earthquake are relevant.
    I have been involved in the indigenous movement for over 15 years. I identify as an Armenian with indigenous ancestry and can see how the Indigenous bill of rights applies to Armenian. This
    needs to be explaned in another article.

  13. The criteria that define indigenous peoples support the argument that Armenians are indigenous to their ancestral lands. The widely accepted working definition offered by Jose R. Marinez Cobo, the Special Rapporteur to the UN Sub-commission in 1971 is that “Indigenous communities, peoples and nations are those which, having a historical continuity with pre-invasion and pre-colonial societies that developed on their territories, consider themselves distinct from the other sectors of the societies now prevailing in those territories, or parts of them. They form at present non-dominant sectors of society and are determined to preserve, develop and transmit to future generations their ancestral territories, and their ethnic identity, as the basis of their continued existence as peoples, in accordance with their own cultural patterns, social institutions and legal systems.”
    It is not a stretch to relate to the indigenous populations that demand rights from the imperialists that stripped them of their lands. Armenians are no different. You don’t have to be brown skinned to be indigenous. Instead of name calling and derogatory remarks, why don’t you express rational opinions based in logic when your political sensibilities are challenged?

    • The mistake in your request is that you are thinking that Leftist Liberals are tolerant and seekers of knowledge when confronted with “rational opinions based in logic”. In fact, all evidence shows that when Leftist Liberals are confronted with facts, it is they who resort to name calling and derogatory remarks, in short “triggered”.

  14. They won’t even post my comments. They delete all the Armenians that don’t buy this garbage left wing anti “white” racism. Armenians are extremely proud of our Aryan roots our Indo European language and European branch our unique European Caucasian culture, our beautiful isolated genetics our Christian nation our European pagan history documented all over Armenia. You will not destroy our reputation with your radical left wing views. You will not throw Armenians in your “victim class” we are far from victims we are survivors, innovators, scientists musicians known all over the world. Especially in America Armenians prosper, our population lives in the most safest cleanest cities in all of America Glendale for one is listed as top 10 safest cleanest cities in ALL of America. We as Armenians no matter where we go aren’t “oppressed” we are only oppressed by the “POC” you try so hard to be. From the Turks to the Azeris to the Arabs to Islamic terror groups who fought along side Azeris in the Artsakh war. To Mexicans beating up and abusing Armenians in California. We are also not middle eastern by any stretch of the imagination, we had contact with invaders from the Middle East but our culture our language our genetics our history is not middle eastern and never will be. The diaspora in the Middle East has created this “Mid East” confusion even though Armenian in the Middle East are almost non existent anyways thanks to your “POC” so stop spreading lies and your radical left wing agenda. As you can see we don’t like it we never will. Even if you guys keep deleting comments it doesn’t change anything.

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