FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) – A Kentucky diocese apologized Saturday after videos showing students from a Catholic high school mocking Native Americans outside the Lincoln Memorial after a rally in Washington.
The Indigenous People March in Washington coincided with March for life, which attracted thousands of anti-abortion protesters, including a group from Covington Catholic High School in Park Hills.
The videos circulating online show a young man who observes and is very close to Nathan Phillips, a 64-year-old native American man who sings and plays a drum.
Other students, some who wear Covington clothes and many who wear "Make America Great Again" hats and sweatshirts, surround them, singing, laughing and joking. [1
– Lulu Says (@ lulu_says2) 19 January 2019
In a joint statement, the Catholic diocese of Covington and Covington Catholic High School apologized to Phillips. The officials said they are investigating and undertaking "appropriate actions, including expulsion".
"We extend our deepest apologies to Mr. Phillips," the statement reads. "This behavior is contrary to the teachings of the Church on the dignity and respect of the human person."
According to the "Indian Country Today" website, Phillips is a senior Omaha and Vietnam veteran who holds an annual ceremony honoring Native American veterans at Arlington National Cemetery.
Marcus Frejo, a member of the Pawnee and Seminole tribes who is also known as Chief Quese Imc, said he had been part of the march and was among a small group of people who remained after the demonstration when rowdy students began chanting slogans as "Make America great" and then they started to make haka, a traditional Maori dance.
In a telephone interview, Frejo told the Associated Press they felt they were making fun of the dance and also a couple of black men nearby.
An 11-minute video of the clash shows the dance of Haka and the students singing out loud before Phillips and Frejo approached them. The movie shows no black person being criticized, but a black man with a camera smiles as he shoots the group.
Frejo said he joined Phillips to defuse the situation by singing the anthem of the American Indian movement with both men playing drums.
Although he feared a mob mentality that could become ugly, Frejo said he was at peace singing despite the contempt. For a moment he felt something special as they repeatedly sang the melody.
"They went from teasing us and laughing to sing with us, I heard three times," said Frejo. "That spirit moved through us, that drum, and slowly started moving through some of those young people."
Eventually a calm fell on the group of students and they separated and moved away.
"When I was there singing, I heard them say" Build that wall, build that wall, "Phillips said, wiping tears in a video posted on Instagram." These are indigenous lands. We should not have walls here. We never did it. "
He told the Washington Post that while he was playing the drum, he thought of his wife, Shoshana, who died of bone marrow cancer almost four years ago and the threats that the indigenous communities around the world are facing.
"I felt the spirit was talking through me," said Phillips.
State representative Ruth Buffalo, a state legislator from North Dakota and a member of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation, said he was saddened to see students showing disrespect towards an elder who is also a veteran of the American army to what should have been a celebration of all cultures.
"The behavior shown in that video is just a snapshot of what the indigenous peoples have faced and continue to face "Buffalo said.
He said he hoped it would lead to some sort of meeting with the students to provide education on the problems that Native Americans flock.
The videos have aroused a flood of online indignation. The actress and activist Alyssa Milano tweeted that the film "made me cry", while the actor Chris Evans tweeted that the actions of the students were "terrifying" and "shameful".
U.S. Deputy Deb Haaland, D-New Mexico, a member of the Laguna Pueblo and had been at the rally early in the day, used Twitter to harshly criticize what he called a "heart-rending" expression of "brash hate, lack of respect, and intolerance. "
Haaland, who is also Catholic, told AP that she was particularly saddened to see the boys teasing an elder, who is revered in Native American culture. He gave a part of the blame to President Donald Trump, who used Indian names like Pocahontas as an insult.
"It is sad that we have a president who uses the names of Native American women as racist insults, and this is an example that these children are clearly following the fact that they had their hats" Make America Great Again "," called Haaland. "He really brought out the worst in people."