By Michael Kickingbear Johnson…
The writers of Law and Order Special Victims Unit (SVU) took it upon themselves to write an episode of their show that is very clearly influenced by the controversial situation that took place at the end of the Indigenous Peoples March from January 2019 in Washington DC.
You may recall the incident. It involved Omaha tribal elder Nathan Phillips who was drumming on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and Nick Sandman, a condescending teen smirking at him along with other Covington Catholic High school students, some wearing white and red “Make American Great Again” (MAGA) hats, who surrounded and were laughing at Mr. Phillips as he drummed.
The episode of law and order features a similar incident of teens in red and white hats and even has at least two references to “MAGA hats ” in the Episode. One of the central characters, a teen, is seen standing close to the main character in a similar challenging fashion as Sandman. However, this is where the episode departs severely from the inspired real event involving Phillips, and Sandman.
This Law and Order episode features teens confronting someone, however, it wasn’t a Native Elder. It was a Muslim woman in a Hijab. The teens in the episode are also not Catholic, but Jewish.
See Trailer here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a_PTI-lPkm8
Yet, I have to wonder why they couldn’t have made their characters similar to those from the actual Indigenous Peoples March, with Nathan Phillips and Nick Sandman characters as the central people in a similar controversy. The episode further made me think...why couldn’t the main character have been an Indigenous person rather than a middle eastern Muslim person?
Now, before some of you get upset and think I have something against people of the Middle East or of the Muslim faith, nothing could be further from the truth. Where I am coming from is this… Racism is racism. No matter who is committing it. It doesn’t matter if it’s whites against people of color, or Palestine vs Israel, or Christian vs Muslim. It’s bad, It’s wrong, and (sadly) it is deeply ingrained here in the United States.
But the main reason I am pointing to this particular episode of Law and Order is that I do not understand why American writers continue to avoid subjects involving Native American people. This L&O SVU episode is just another example of Indigenous Invisibility and (in this case) literally written out of a real-life event. The writers were clearly influenced by the situation which dominated Social media news cycles in January.
If non-indigenous writers and producers are uncomfortable writing about Native American’s, I suggest they can hire native writers. Who better to write with authority? I’d say the same thing if the writers on SVU wrote this episode without a or consultant or writer who is from the communities they are writing about and understand the Muslim faith.
If L&O SVU or any other television drama writers want so badly to write about racism in America, Why do they avoid Native American subjects or people? Why not write an episode about Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women & Girls? Why are Native American people or communities excluded from such episode subjects? They have no trouble writing in characters from other communities of color. The answer to this of course is we shouldn’t be.
In this article, I am obviously picking on one Television drama. Perhaps others have written episodes where a central character was Native American or dealt with an indigenous current affairs subject. My point is simply this…we are just as relevant as any other community of color. Ignoring us will not make us go away. I challenge television and movie producers, and scriptwriters to use your amazing resources, and please hire native talent. Ask us about subjects like Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women & Girls. Let us help you bring accurate awareness to our very real problems going on inside of America. You might be surprised.