A huge controversy was sparked in Washington on Friday when a group of young men chanted — and one of them stared down — a Native-American war veteran who was singing and beating his drum. The young men, from Covington Catholic High School in Covington, Kentucky, were in Washington for the anti-abortion March For Life, while the man, Nathan Phillips, was there for Indigenous Peoples Day.
The Covington Diocese, which supervises the school, has announced plans to investigate, while videos of the confrontation have been widely shared.
“We are just now learning about this incident and regret it took place. We are looking into it,” a spokeswoman for the Diocese said.
Now, the veteran from the video has tearfully addressed what took place that day.
“I heard them saying ‘build that wall, build that wall,'” Phillips said, per Huffington Post, as he wiped away tears. “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, an Omaha elder, is a Vietnam veteran, who regularly hosts a sacred pipe ceremony at Arlington National Ceremony, meant to honor Native American war veterans. He had been participating in the march for Indigenous Peoples Day, which took place in the nation’s capital the same day as the March For Life.
"When I was there singing, I heard them say, 'Build that Wall.' ...I wish I could see those young men put that energy into making this nation great," said Native Elder and Vietnam Vet Nathan Phillips, as he wiped tears from his face. ????pic.twitter.com/AX285EWxGb— Polly Sigh (@dcpoll) January 19, 2019
The incident had led to Covington Catholic High School, an all-male institution located near Cincinnati, to trend on social media and for the school to lock at least one of its official accounts. Social media users were among the first to recognize the name of the school on the clothes of several of the students, who were also wearing “Make America Great Again” hats.
“As a Native American journalist, I find this to be one of the most egregious displays of naïve – I can’t even say naïve. It’s racism. It’s blatant racism,” Vincent Schilling, who witnessed the incident, told the Cincinnati Enquirer.
“This Veteran put his life on the line for our country. The students’ display of blatant hate, disrespect, and intolerance is a signal of how common decency has decayed under this administration. Heartbreaking,” Congresswoman Deb Haaland of New Mexico, who is also of Native American descent, said on Twitter Saturday.