WASHINGTON — A Roman Catholic diocese and a Catholic high school in Kentucky issued a joint apology Saturday after videos posted online showed a confrontation Friday between some of the school’s students and some Native American adults after separate rallies near the Lincoln Memorial in Washington.
However, new video (below) that circulated on social media Sunday appeared to show a Native American adult approached the students and instigated the interaction, leading some commentators to retract their previous criticisms of the students.
Both the March for Life, a demonstration against abortion, and the Indigenous Peoples March, in support of Native Americans, were being held not far from one another.
Footage posted online showed one student wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat standing face-to-face with Nathan Phillips, a 64-year-old Omaha elder and Vietnam War veteran. Phillips was singing and playing the drum while the unidentified student stared him in the face.
Other students, some wearing Covington Catholic High School clothing, surrounded them, chanting, laughing and jeering.
In a separate Instagram video (below), Phillips is heard saying that he heard the students chanting “Build that wall, build that wall.”
“This is indigenous lands,” Phillips says. “We’re not supposed to have walls here. We never did.”
Marcus Frejo, a member of the Pawnee and Seminole tribes who is also known as Chief Quese Imc, said he had been a part of the march and was among a small group of people remaining after the rally when the boisterous students began chanting slogans such as “Make America great” and then began doing the haka, a traditional Maori dance.
In a phone interview, Frejo told The Associated Press he felt they were mocking the dance and also heckling a couple of black men nearby. He approached the group with Phillips to defuse the situation, joining him in singing the anthem from the American Indian Movement and beating out the tempo on hand drums.
Although he feared a mob mentality that could turn ugly, Frejo said he was at peace singing among the scorn and he briefly felt something special happen as they repeatedly sang the tune.
“They went from mocking us and laughing at us to singing with us. I heard it three times,” Frejo said. “That spirit moved through us, that drum, and it slowly started to move through some of those youths.”
Eventually a calm fell over the group of students and they broke up and walked away.
Phillips was involved in a similar incident in 2015 where he claimed he was harassed by another group of students at a Native American themed party, Detroit’s Fox2 reported at the time.
“They had little feathers on, I was just going to walk by,” Phillips said. He said he was trying to teach the students about respecting Native Americans when the conversation became heated.
Phillips alleges that the students threw a beer can at him and hurled racial slurs. When asked why he engaged with the group to begin with, he said he felt an obligation.
“For me just to walk by and have a blind eye to it,” he said, “something just didn’t allow me to do it.”
Phillips is a Vietnam veteran who says he served between 1972 and 1976. He is a former director of the Native Youth Alliance and holds an annual ceremony honoring Native American veterans.