Nathan Phillips: “I Was Afraid for the Four Black Men Surrounded by a Mob”

Nathan Phillips (Omaha) Photo courtesy Shane Bahn

Published January 21, 2019

WASHINGTON — Nathan Phillips, the 64-year-old Omaha elder, who on last Friday drummed and sang the American Indian Movement anthem at the Lincoln Memorial has spent the last week being interviewed by many news outlets.

A week after the incident, the story has been the largest American Indian story since media coverage of Standing Rock, an Indigenous movement to stop the Dakota Access pipeline that was spread over several months.

Earlier this week, Native News Online interviewed Phillips by telephone. During the interview Phillips, a Marine Corps veteran and an American Indian pipe carrier, talked about the encounter with the group of Covington Catholic High School boys, many who were wearing “Make America Great Again” red caps. Earlier in the day, the boys attended an anti-abortion rally.

Videos of Nick Sandmann, a Covington Catholic junior, show Phllips walking up to Sandmann and drumming and singing. Phillips says he was attempting to walk to the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. The encounter shows Sandmann holding his ground, standing before the American Inidan elder with a smirk on his face.

From press reports, the boys had gathered at the Lincoln Memorial to catch buses home to northern Kentucky. Phillips was at the Lincoln Memorial on Friday to attend the Indigenous Peoples March. He, along with other American Indians, lingered after the march to savor the events of the day.

According to Phillips, and captured on several videos, the high school boys and a group of Hebrew Israelites engaged in taunting back and forth. The Hebrew Israelites comprise a group of mostly African Americans who view the biblical Israelites as their historic ancestors.

Organizers of the Indigenous Peoples March said the Hebrew Israelites had harassed people during the afternoon as the Indigenous Peoples March was being held. A video obtained by Native News Online shows the group yelling at Native women and telling them that God took the land from their ancestors because they worshipped animals, such as eagles, and rocks.

As the exchanges between the boys and the Hebrew Israelites intensified, Phillips says he feared violence. So, he decided to sing a song.

Why did you go into the crowd? Some people think you did it to provoke the boys. What happened?

I am old enough to remember the Civil Rights Movement. I remember images of black people being surrounded by whites. I

Had images of black people surrounded by whites. Feared for the black men. I thought here are 200 hundred white boys who were becoming more and more loud chanting at the men.

They should have walked away, but instead they chanted at the men. I blame their chaperones who should have gotten those kids away from the situation.

Why did you choose the American Indian Movement (AIM) anthem to sing on Friday?

For a lot of folks, it is a song of strength and healing. For the Movement, it was a song used to fight injustice

When I learned to drum and sing, it was the first song I learned. To me it is as much of a prayer song… our songs are prayers to God. I was singing in a sacred manner. I thought as I began the song, I am going to pray for these children. I am going to pray for these men who are so full of pain and hurt; they don’t klnow how express themselves in a peaceful way.

As a pipe carrier, I  felt I could not walk away. I was feeling from both sides racism and biogotry. So, I put myself in harm’s way. There were some from our group (American Indians) who came to protect me as I sang.

During the song, the boys began to do the tomahawk chop and I heard some yell “build that wall.”

I felt they were mocking us and as if they ridiculed my cuture.

The president has tweeted in support of the Covington Catholic boys. What did you think about the president of the United States Tweet?

My tummy went into a knot and it has not stopped yet. I said ‘he did not day that.’ A while back I decided I wasn’t going to pay attention to his tweets because he is mean in them sometimes. It feels to me that he does not like me.

What would you like see happen now? 

Those chaperones and counselors who were the kids should be fired. I felt it was the responsibility of the adults to remove the kids from what could have turned into a violent situation.

Before Mr. Sandmann released his statement, I felt nothing should be done to the kids. I thought they should be left alone. Now that I have read his statement where he would not take responsibility, I think he and all the rest of the kids need some cultural sensitivity training. They should be brought to a place of responsibility for their actions.

I think Pope Francis should be brought into the situation. The Catholic church has always been against the indigenous man. Pope Francis needs to rescind the Doctrine of Discovery.

We all need to work for a better tomorrow.













Took the steps to exit this situation. This is when this young man stood in front.

He didn’t say a word…smirked at me …smiled at me. was heading for a clear opening…he stopped …he had his smirk…the pain of 500 years came upon me. There he was full privilege.

Still there …there was a call and then all the kids scattered…police officers showed up.

Running away…


No police officers talked to me…right to life people…talked …

the chaporne who allowed them to behave…should be fired…

Kids were there for three or four hours…we were on the sidelines watching it.

power than myself made me do this…


Why me? I am nobody…



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