Native American Vet Taunted By High School Students In MAGA Hats Has A Powerful And Emotional Message For Us All

In case you are unfamiliar with the disturbing video in which a group of white teenagers surrounded and jeered a tribal Elder and Sacred Pipe carrier of the Umoⁿhoⁿ (Omaha tribe), Nathan Phillips, who was participating in the Indigenous People’s March held Friday in Washington D.C., well, prepare yourself.

Indigenous marches were held around the United States and other locations around the world on Friday as a sign of solidarity on issues like the epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women in both the USA and Canada, tribal sovereignty and environmental concerns related to climate change and the fossil fuel industry.

You can spot Mr. Phillips on the steps in the background of this Twitter photo from the march starting point at the Department of the Interior which oversees the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Marchers were supposed to gather at the Lincoln Memorial at the end of the march. But as they approached the edifice they were met by a group of boys, seemingly without teachers or chaperones, who were in the city for a pro-life march and rally held at another location earlier in the day.

As Native marchers approached, some of the boys of Covington Catholic High School of Covington, West Virginia began to yell racial slurs, taunts and mimic the prayer songs and dances of the Native marchers. The boys also blocked marchers way as they wore red hats marked “Make America Great Again” and some chanted “build the wall.”

Some of the marchers chose to continue forward instead of leaving or going around the abusive, harassing teens. But a few Natives continued on, undeterred by the racist display. Some African-American allies as well as young Native men began to trade barbs with the teens.

64-year-old US Marine Corps Vietnam veteran Nathan Phillips saw what was happening and approached to sing a prayer song to try to deescalate the situation. As Phillips came forward with his drum, singing a prayer song over all present, one of the Covington students got up close with him and others surrounded and taunted the Omaha tribal elder.

Phillips visits Washington DC as a Sacred Pipe carrier to perform ceremonies to honor the Native veterans buried at Arlington National Cemetery. He is the former director of Native Youth Alliance and has years of experience working with troubled and at-risk youth.

Below is some of the most uncomfortable footage you will see come out of modern-day America.

At about 54 seconds, a boy gets directly in the face of Phillips, trying to intimidate the Omaha elder by standing there and smirking directly in his face as his schoolmates cheer him on and hurl insults.

Some of the teenagers wore their insignia for Covington Catholic High School, which is now investigating the incident along with the Catholic Diocese Of Covington.  The school and Diocese have said they will “take appropriate action, up to and including expulsion.”

Phillips spoke after the incident, visibly shaken by the teens actions towards the Indigenous People’s March participants.

Some cited the teens egging each other on as an example of the toxic masculinity that can be created in all boys schools that cater primarily to the affluent.

Nathan Phillips shared an emotional message on CNN, talking about how deeply unsettled he was following the incident, and how he fears for the future of the United States.

He stated:

“We’re in a dangerous situation. I fear for those youth, fear for their future, fear for their souls, their spirit, what they’re going to do to this country.”

Thankfully support stands strong with Mr. Phillips, who is lauded throughout the Native community as a leader.

Phillips was one of the water protectors at the Oceti Sakowin camp at Standing Rock, North Dakota protecting the water supply from tar sands pipelines that were built anyway and have sprung multiple leaks.

Both Democratic Representative Deb Haaland of New Mexico, a member of the Laguna Pueblo, and Kansas Democrat Representative Sharice Davids issued statements on the incident.

The National Congress of American Indians and the Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN), along with IEN organizer Dallas Goldtooth, also issued statements.

Others spoke out online as well.

This is also not Mr. Phillips first time facing harassment.

Nor would most Natives see the students’ behavior as anything they have not also faced at some point.

After being out around noon for a walk in April 2015, Mr. Phillips was approached by several Eastern Michigan University students, who had painted their faces and put on feathers to mimic Natives.

“(They said) ‘Go back to the reservation, you blank Indian,'” he said in an interview with Fox 2 Detroit.  A student then threw a beer can at his head.

Mr. Phillips’ harassment was anything but atypical for Natives in the United States where sports culture says people can “dress like Indians” and yell things like “scalp them” and “massacre them” and have characters like Chief Wahoo, the tomahawk chop and an NFL team named after an actual racial slur.

Sports culture is unfortunately often a place of harassment of Natives.

Dr. Adrienne Keene, academic and Native activist, relayed that in a series of posts. This is not knew. What is new is non-Native people noticing.

The statement released by the Catholic Diocese of Covington read:

“We condemn the actions of the Covington Catholic High School students towards Nathan Phillips specifically, and Native Americans in general, Jan. 18, after the March for Life, in Washington, D.C. We extend our deepest apologies to Mr. Phillips. This behavior is opposed to the Church’s teachings on the dignity and respect of the human person.”

The United States has a dark past dealing with their Indigenous people, such as the forced relocation of over 46,000 Native Americans under President Andrew Jackson, known as the Trail Of Tears. President Donald Trump moved the once disgraced Jackson’s portrait into the Oval Office and cites him often as a personal hero.

Oddly, Adolph Hitler also wrote about his admiration for President Jackson’s policy of Native American extermination and cited the United States as an inspiration for his own reservation/concentration policies. But the US government’s Extermination Acts were replaced in the late 1800s by the Assimilation Acts which gave birth to reservations and mandatory boarding schools and the outlawing of Native religions, traditions, languages, songs, dances and clothing.

Those laws were finally repealed throughout the 1970s, 80s and 90s.

Rudy Giuliani infamously said Donald Trump’s election was the biggest victory for the people of the United States since the election of Andrew Jackson. With the President’s frequent use of Pocahontas as a racial slur, a GOP member of Congress adding Sacagawea as a slur too, and the President’s recent tweet using the largest mass shooting of unarmed civilians on US soil as the punchline for a Twitter joke, many Natives feel things are going backwards instead of forward.

As times continue to get more unsettling, how will the people as a whole react? 

Some are already online stating the Indigenous People’s March were the aggressors and provoked the teens or that it is all a misunderstanding, showing footage from the students, which only picks up after reinforcements came to help and protect Mr. Phillips and the teens disbursed.

But Natives are used to revisionist history.


staff writer and editor Amelia Mavis Christnot, Oglala Lakota of the Oceti Sakowin and Kanienkeha:ka of the Haudenosaunee contributed to this article.