This weekend, video footage of a group of teenagers wearing "Make America Great Again" hats allegedly harassing a Native American man went viral on social media. The man in the footage, Nathan Phillips, is an Omaha elder and a Vietnam War veteran, and he was playing a ceremonial drum on Friday as part of the Indigenous Peoples March in Washington, D.C. On Saturday, the Native American elder responded to the teens in the MAGA hats by conveying a critical lesson in history.
Some of the teenagers wearing MAGA hats were reportedly on a field trip from a Catholic high school in Kentucky, per The New York Times, and they were in D.C. on Friday to participate in the anti-abortion March for Life. They then encountered Phillips, who was participating in the Indigenous Peoples March nearby, and video footage indicates that they surrounded him. Despite this, The New York Times reported that Phillips continued to play his drum.
In a video posted to Instagram by Kaya Taitano — a 26-year-old student from Guam — Phillips responded to the teens by denouncing Trump's proposed border wall, which the teens reportedly supported.
"I heard them saying, 'Build that wall, build that wall,'" Phillips said in Taitano's video. "You know, this is indigenous lands. We’re not supposed to have walls here — we never did for millennia, before anybody else came here."
"We always took care of our elders, took care of our children," Phillips said. "We always provided for them, and we taught them right from wrong. I wish I could see ... that mass of young men put that energy into making this country really, really great."
According to Vincent Schilling, a writer for Indian Country Today, Phillips is the former director of the Native Youth Alliance, and was performing the Native American intertribal "AIM Song" in the viral video. Although he appeared to continue drumming, unfazed, throughout his encounter with the teens, Phillips later told The Washington Post that he could feel the situation "getting ugly."
"I was thinking: ‘I’ve got to find myself an exit out of this situation and finish my song at the Lincoln Memorial,’” Phillips told the Post. “I started going that way, and that guy in the hat stood in my way and we were at an impasse. He just blocked my way and wouldn’t allow me to retreat.”
And yet, Phillips continued to sing and drum. He told the Post that he was thinking about his wife, Soshana, who had died from bone marrow cancer nearly four years prior. He said that he was also thinking about the various threats with which indigenous communities around the globe have had to contend.
“I felt like the spirit was talking through me,” Phillips told the Post.
Nathalie Farfan, one of the organizers of the Indigenous Peoples March, told The New York Times that "the same youth and a few others became emotional because of the power, resilience and love we inherently carry in our DNA" — something that Farfan said did not appear in the viral video. However, the school that many of the teens reportedly attend — Covington Catholic High School — is currently under investigation, according to NBC News, and the Diocese of Covington has criticized the students for their actions.