Nathan Phillips and Indigenous Peoples Deserve Better

January 25, 2019

The infamous video of teenage boys proudly sporting “MAGA” hats while mocking Nathan Phillips, a Native elder and veteran, has consumed the media and is weighing heavily on many people’s minds. In the days following the tense interaction between Covington High School students and Phillips, the narrative has changed from condemning the actions of the boys, to ridiculing Phillips and other witnesses. Although this is the biggest controversy to face Covington Catholic, they have previously defended their students when they dressed up in blackface and taunted black players on an opposing basketball team. The new narrative that has formed from this incident in Washington, D.C. was prompted by the statement given by Nick Sandmann, the boy in the video with an entitled smirk and standing in the personal space of Phillips.


Quickly believing Sandmann’s statement over Phillips and numerous witnesses, the right-wing has actually convinced people that the students were innocent. Other video clips have emerged in order to “disprove” Phillips’ claims, when in reality, they actually show the students partaking in racist conduct. For instance, the students are clearly imitating stereotypical “war whooping” and chants that are deeply offensive to Native communities. In addition, the boys are repeatedly making a controversial gesture known as the “tomahawk chop,” a celebratory move made popular by sports teams that use Native cultures for their mascots or team names. This gesture has come into the spotlight for being disrespectful and teams are slowly condemning the move. Other than these clear displays of racist behavior, witnesses have asserted that the students exclaimed “build the wall” and “Trump 2020.” It is also crucial to note that these male students were in attendance of the right-wing “March for Life,” an anti-abortion rally. On the other hand, Phillips was in attendance of the Indigenous Peoples March, so the argument that he was purposely seeking out the children for their political beliefs is irrelevant.



Sandmann is suddenly a figure for conservatives and is receiving his fifteen minutes of fame with interviews on prominent news outlets. This pattern of white-washing the narrative and demonizing the Native community is becoming all too familiar and is only fueled by figures like Trump who have used terms such as “Pocahontas” to bully adversaries. While he turns the tables around in a “boys will be boys” manner, Sandmann’s claims of being singled out and maintaining a respectful attitude towards Phillips has been disproven with over two hours of footage. The utter entitlement and privilege that has been exuded through these boys partaking in racist behavior and not facing any substantial consequences is unsurprising, but completely disappointing.


Victoria is a freshman Political Science major with a minor in Women's and Gender Studies.

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