Shared from the 1/23/2019 Duluth News Tribune eEdition

Activist wants a ‘space for teaching’

Native American says he’ll meet with students


Native American activist Nathan Phillips sees his encounter in Washington, D.C., as a teachable moment. CHRIS STRANAD

CINCINNATI – Native American activist Nathan Phillips now says he will meet with students at Covington Catholic High School in Kentucky.

He offered to travel as a delegate representing the international coalition behind the Indigenous Peoples March to Covington and have a dialogue about cultural appropriation, racism and the importance of respecting diverse cultures, he said in a news release Tuesday.

He had told the Cincinnati Enquirer earlier that it was “not the right time” to meet with the students.

“Race relations in this country and around the world have reached a boiling point,” he said Tuesday. “It is sad that on the weekend of a holiday when we celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., racial hostility occurred on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, where King gave his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech.”

He says he’d like to use what occurred as a teachable moment.

Phillips and others were closing the Indigenous Peoples March with a prayer ceremony when, videos show, a group known as the Black Hebrew Israelites and the students began arguing. Phillips said he stepped between the two groups in an effort to quell the incident.

“I have read the statement from Nick Sandmann, the student who stared at me for a long time. He did not apologize, and I believe there are intentional falsehoods in his testimony,” Phillips said. “But I have faith that human beings can use a moment like this to find a way to gain understanding from one another.”

Phillips expressed appreciation for the statements from the school and the mayor of Covington that mockery and taunting are not representative of the compassion, respect, and other inclusive values they want to teach.

“So, let’s create space for the teaching of tolerance to happen,” he said.

Cincinnati restaurateur Jeff Ruby had invited Phillips to “break bread and make amends” with the students after short clips of a video of the incident went viral.

“It’s not the right time,” Phillips told the Enquirer on Monday night.

Many social media users interpreted, and Phillips maintains, that the students were harassing him. According to Phillips, “it’s not yet the time” because of the statement released by CovCath student Nick Sandmann. In the viral video clips, Sandmann, a junior, is seen standing face to face with Phillips, smiling, as Phillips calmly beats a drum and chants a prayer. , Sandmann stands reacts with the same demeanor while smiling.

“He (Sandmann) needs to put out a different statement,” said Phillips, who has said he is a Vietnam veteran. “I’m disappointed with his statement. He didn’t accept any responsibility. That lack of responsibility, I don’t accept it.”

Phillips said Sandmann’s response has changed his mind on how he views the incident and what he hopes the outcome will be.

“At first I wanted the teachers and chaperones to be reprimanded, some fired, for letting this happen,” Phillips said. “For the students, I was against any expulsions, but now I have to revisit that.”

According to Phillips, the national attention he has received hasn’t had much sway on him. one way or the other. The incident hasn’t really either, he said, but Sandmann’s statement has.

“This is our youth,” Phillips said. “These (CovCath) students may be from a different culture, a different race, but I’m American and they are American.”

Phillips said he’s ready to “work toward a better America.” That was one reason he was participating in the Indigenous Peoples March.

“I’m just working for a better future for all of our children.”

Phillips said he was in prayer when he approached the CovCath students. He said his goal was to defuse a “volatile” situation between the students and members of the Black Hebrew Israelites.

“He (Sandmann) stole my narrative,” Phillips said. “From the time I hit that first beat of the drum until I hit the last beat, I was in prayer. Now all of a sudden, he’s the prayer guy and the passive one.”

Phillips is referring to Sandmann’s statement: “I believed that by remaining motionless and calm, I was helping to diffuse the situation. I realized everyone had cameras and that perhaps a group of adults was trying to provoke a group of teenagers into a larger conflict. I said a silent prayer that the situation would not get out of hand.”

Phillips also took issue that Sandmann refers to him and fellow marchers as “Native American protesters.”

“I take great offense to that term, ‘protester.’ We were not protesting anything,” Phillips said. “We were there in prayer. We wanted to make a better America.”

“Race relations in this country and around the world have reached a boiling point.”
Nathan Phillips

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