A group of teens wearing “Make America Great Again” hats harassed a Native American Vietnam War veteran during Friday’s first Indigenous Peoples March. Now the Native American elder is speaking out about the ordeal.
Video posted online captures the unsettling incident in Washington, D.C., after a group of teens surrounds Nathan Phillips, mocking and harassing him as he sang the American Indian Movement song on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Phillips served in the Vietnam War and is the former director of the Native Youth Alliance, according to Indian Country Today.
The video, posted to YouTube by user KC Noland, also went viral on Twitter.
One teen, in particular, is seen blocking Philips, smugly staring at the elder as he performs his song. Teens in the background appear to encourage the harassment.
Users on social media identified the teens as likely being students from Covington Catholic school in Kentucky because of the insignia on some of their clothing. Laura Keener, the communications director with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Covington, released a statement on Saturday saying they were looking into the incident.
“We are just now learning about this incident and regret it took place,” according to a statement from Keener obtained by the Cincinnati Enquirer. “We are looking into it.”
Friday’s Indigenous People’s March took place on the same day as the pro-life rally March For Life, and Covington Catholic’s website shows that students and faculty attended the rally. The school’s Twitter was made private following the viral video.
HuffPost reached out to Covington Catholic school for comment but did not receive a reply at the time of publication.
A video of Phillip’s response that appears to have been recorded Friday was posted Saturday to Twitter.
“I heard them saying ‘build that wall, build that wall,’” Phillips said while wiping 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.”
Congresswoman Deb Haaland (D-N.M.) ― one of the first Native American women to be elected to Congress ― said the students displayed “blatant hate” against Phillips.
“This Veteran put his life on the line for our country,” Haaland said on Twitter. “The students’ display of blatant hate, disrespect, and intolerance is a signal of how common decency has decayed under this administration. Heartbreaking.”
Phillips also faced racial discrimination in 2015 when he said Eastern Michigan University students were dressed up in feathers with their faces painted, mocking the elder leader.
“[The students] started whooping and hollering,” Phillips told FOX 2 News at the time. “I said that wasn’t honoring, that was racist. Then at that time, it really got ugly.” Phillips said he was subjected to racist slurs from the group during that incident.