Update: In the day since the original video was posted, more videos have surfaces showing the full context of the event, shedding a somewhat different light on the incident. While it does appear that the students were indeed mocking the native elder, it seems that the encounter was far more complex than originally reported.
For nearly an hour prior to their encounter with the natives, the students were being harassed by an extremist hate group know as the Black Hebrews or Black Israelites. The students were taunted with racist and homophobic slurs, and responded with various chants, until the native march came between the two clashing groups, adding more confusion to the situation. An in-depth analysis of all the video footage was published on Medium by Colin J Mason. CNN also conducted an interview with the boy at the center of the controversy to get his side of the story.
On Friday the Indigenous Peoples March took place in Washington D.C., raising awareness about native causes. The march, which involved a large alliance of Native American tribes, was the first of its kind since the American Indian Movement of the 1960s and 1870s.
Sadly, the struggles that these groups were seeking to raise awareness about were overshadowed by the antics of a few teenagers who clashed with the marchers.
A group of teenagers from Covington Catholic School in Kentucky mocked march participants and attempted to block them from continuing on their route. Many of the teens captured in video of the incident can be seen wearing Trump’s famous “Make America Great Again” hats.
The teens were reportedly in town for the annual anti-abortion March for Life event.
One teen, in particular, can be seen directly blocking Nathan Phillips, who was drumming at the time.
When the Omaha elder came face to face with the counter-protesters, he continued to beat on his drum and sing as they attempted to block his path, while smirking and staring, an act that many observed deemed provocative.
A representative from The Roman Catholic Diocese of Covington confirmed the teens were from the Kentucky school and issued a statement saying:
“We condemn the actions of the Covington Catholic High School students towards Nathan Phillips specifically, and Native Americans in general. The matter is being investigated and we will take appropriate action, up to and including expulsion.”
At least one student from another school, Owensboro Catholic School can be heard in the video saying, “land gets stolen all the time, it’s how it works.”
Tom Lilly, president of Owensboro Catholic Schools, defended the actions of his student, saying that:
“Was that comment any more than a cynical remark? I hate for a kid to have made a flippant remark and get lumped in with Covington Catholic. If the kid hadn’t had an Owensboro sweatshirt on it wouldn’t be an issue, but he did. He’s a good kid and I hate this.”
“It was getting ugly, and I was thinking: ‘I’ve got to find myself an exit out of this situation and finish my song at the Lincoln Memorial. I started going that way, and that guy in the hat stood in my way and we were at an impasse. He just blocked my way and wouldn’t allow me to retreat,” Phillips said.
A video of Phillips’ response was posted to Twitter on Saturday:
Thank you to @VinceSchilling of @IndianCountry and many others who identified the proud Native man who is being harassed. He is Mr. Nathan Phillips. I’m reposting this video from “ka_ya11” on IG. This man’s words pierce my heart. The grace. The wisdom. The hope. pic.twitter.com/BKOA40SVq5
— Ava DuVernay (@ava) January 19, 2019
“I heard them saying ‘build that wall, build that wall. This is indigenous land, you’re not supposed to have walls here. We never did for a millennia. We never had a prison; we always took care of our elders, took care of our children, always provided for them, taught them right from wrong. I wish I could see that energy … put that energy to making this country really, really great,” Phillips said.
In an op-ed published on Saturday, Covington Mayor Joe Meyer said that the events in the video were “disturbing, discouraging, and – frankly – appalling.” He added:
“The point is that because of the actions of people who live in Northern Kentucky, our region is being challenged again to examine our core identities, values, and beliefs. No, we’re not perfect. More progress needs to be made, and we will continue to work diligently on making it. In the meantime, Covington is proud of being a welcoming city where bigotry, discrimination and hatred will not be tolerated.”
Phillips is a well known Native American elder who has spent time fighting oil pipelines including the Keystone XL Pipeline and Dakota Access Pipeline and has garnered significant support on social media since video of the incident went viral.
The native man who was harrassed by them MAGA high schoolers is Nate Phillips. I have worked with him for years fighting the Keystone XL & DAPL pipelines. He is a true warrior. That was some bigoted, vile shit what them kids did.
— Dallas Goldtooth (@dallasgoldtooth) January 19, 2019
I am so deeply grieved and angry by this as young kids in MAGA hats surrounded and mocked a beloved Native American elder yesterday.
When your power is centered in your whiteness, mocking others who are unlike you makes you feel strong.
But it’s weak. And despicable. pic.twitter.com/38FtzGtowL
— Shaun King (@shaunking) January 19, 2019
Nathan PhillipsOmaha ElderVietnam Veteran Former director of the Native Youth Alliance Keeper of a sacred…
Phillips has also appeared in a popular music video:
In a country where the current president pokes fun at the native ancestry (or lack thereof) of fellow elected officials, it is no wonder young people feel empowered to do what these teens did on Friday. According to multiple witness accounts and despite the obvious tension, it should be noted that Phillip kept his cool during the incident.