An interview with Nathan Phillips on the #MAGAYouth incident

“I see a bright, beautiful future if we want it … it's there for us. It's ours to pass on to the next generation.”

After an extremely long day for Nathan Phillips, the Vietnam-era Native American Veteran who stood in the midst of Covington Catholic High School students and sang a Native song on his hand drum.

At the time of the interview, Nathan and I had been messaging back and forth all day, he was at a family member’s house in Washington D.C. unaware that his name was the top trending term on Twitter with over 315,000 tweets.

The original story which appeared in Indian Country Today had been accessed hundreds of thousands of times as well.

See Related: Outrage as non-Native youth wearing #MAGA hats taunt and disrespect Native elder

Vincent Schilling: It’s been quite a day for you Nathan, how are you?

Nathan Phillips: I'm just catching my second wind. Most of the day there were so many numbers coming in. I didn't know who they were and you know, I kinda got scared, I just kinda got nervous and thought, oh Jeez, who's this? And after the racist incident that happened a couple of years ago in Michigan, I got a couple of bad calls then. So I just kinda got nervous about answering the phone.

Vincent Schilling: I have gotten hundreds of emails in support of you Nathan. I have people from Germany, Spain, Ireland and Canada, several branches of the military, sending you support. One elder said she has a handmade drum that she wants to gift to you.

Nathan Phillips at the Arlington Cemetery - Photo Vincent Schilling

So what was the experience like?

Nathan Phillips: I felt like I was sitting on the sidelines of my own experience. I realized where I was at when I was doing and it was an out of body experience. I thought “who is this guy?” I Woke up in the middle of it and thought, “What am I doing?” You know?

But this is the commitment when I picked up the pipe 27 years ago. It's for the next generation. It’s when that moment comes and you got to stand your ground. That commitment that you made to either fulfill that or you don't. I mean, I was scared and I didn't want to. I really, I really didn't want to, but nobody else was.

Vincent Schilling: What were your thoughts regarding the disrespect being shown by the youth?

Nathan Phillips: We're indigenous. We're different than that. When we see our youth going the wrong way, we will go up and say, “You are doing the wrong thing there nephew, or grandson. This is just the wrong way. I tell them, “This is the way you have to behave. This wrong, this is right.”

You gotta do it a certain way. We have protocols.

Vincent Schilling: In Native culture, the things we're taught more than anything else is being respectful to our elders.

Nathan Phillips: I'm angry with those instructors, the chaperones and tutors whose children’s lives were in their hands. That was their job, that wasn't my job to do.

No, but then again, we are Indigenous and it is my job and from an Indigenous point of view.

But they were getting paid to take care of those children to act and for them to be allowed to behave that way. Is it in my mind, is a fireable offense. They’ve aligned those children to take the wrong path and they have a bright future to live. You know, if that was my child, I would not be happy with the school officials right now to allow my child to behave that way. I don't care if my child is that way. When he's out in public, he’d better behave.

Vincent Schilling: Your incident is on every major network you can possibly imagine, it started with Indian Country Today because I knew you and we have had ceremony. But then it went to publications such as the New York Times, the Cincinnati Enquirer / USA Today. CBS the CBC, It went everywhere Nathan. Indian country has really been, you know, asking about you and how you're doing.

Nathan Phillips: Thank you for your support. I could do some more prayers. Honestly. I'm still scared. I'm still feeling vulnerable. But I'm not gonna back down. Those young people from that school, that song was a prayer for their future and my children’s future. We’re facing critical times and we’ve got to make choices, and they're going to be some hard choices.

I'm not a chief or anything. But I feel like at that moment it was for me to do what I've always said in for a long time is that I'm expendable. You know, when I was in Vietnam times and when I was in the Marine Corps times, that's what I was. I was expendable. Expendable to corporate greed. You know, in all wars, especially the ones that are going down for the oil, you know, we're fighting against — the pipelines. Now that we're at a point where we've drawn the line, we’ve got to stand that line. All of us.

I see a future though. I do see a future. I see a bright, beautiful future if we want it, if we're willing to pray for it, it's there for us. It's ours to pass on to the next generation, but we got to be willing for it.

Follow Indian Country Today’s associate editor Vincent Schilling (Akwesasne Mohawk) on Twitter - @VinceSchilling

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Note: We removed written text regarding any fundraising information.

No. 1-12

I feel like I have to set some things straight here. First of all - why were the kids on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial? They did not need a permit, they were waiting for their bus to go home. They were not protesting, they were doing AS THEIR ELDERS INSTRUCTED THEM and meeting at the Memorial to catch their bus. They did not plan their time at the Memorial in conflict with your march. They are part of the tens of thousands of high school kids who have congregated in Washington D.C. for OVER 40 YEARS. For the March for Life. They have been doing this for OVER 40 YEARS. Mr. Phillips stated that he was either a) confronting the boys because they were monsters (REALLY?) or b) trying to get through them to go up the steps. Which was it? Because if he was trying to go up the steps he chose a weird way to do it. If he really needed to go up the steps he should have had his cameramen ask the boys to let him by - they surely would. They were bystanders. I have read so many statements that just make me scratch my head and say ....whuuuut? For example: MR. PHILLIPS IS A VIETNAM VETERAN! Well how the heck were these kids supposed to know that? MR. Phillips was surrounded by hateful MAGA youths! A few kids had MAGA hats, President Trump is the most supportive president we Catholics have had for years, so of COURSE we are going to support him. GET OVER IT. We lived through 8 years of Obama's lies and condescension, you can get through this. The 'Paid' adults along with the kids didn't do anything. The chaperones are not paid. They are parents. They DID do their job - corralling over a 100 kids and getting them on their bus. They couldn't be everywhere. If Mr. Phillips really has any interest in defusing this situation, then don't hold your breath waiting for an apology from those kids. They didn't do anything wrong. Furthermore, Mr. Phillips owes THEM and their PARENTS and the Northern Kentucky Catholic community for this brazen trouble-making media stunt. But he doesn't have to do that. We are a forgiving bunch, and even though the kids and their parents are getting death threats and the school and several others have to stay closed indefinitely that's okay. These boys and girls are resilient. They will get their excellent education, they will go to college, they will NOT be indoctrinated in the liberal bullcrap that usually infects our children when they go to college, because of you Mr. Philips. So I guess I should thank you for creating a whole generation of Take-No-Bullcrap Conservatives. Now....if you and your group persist in taking a pound of flesh from these kids, go right ahead and create martyrs. Nothing does a cause greater good than having martyrs. What I suggest is that Mr. Phillips take Jeff Ruby's offer, let Mr. Ruby bring him out here in style, feed him a steak dinner that I sure can't afford to buy, and humbly approach this community and apologize to them for this monumental shitstorm that you started. Mr. Phillips was the adult. He chose to put himself into the middle of a situation for whatever reason, I don't know. He for some reason expected these kids to know who he was, what he was, what he was doing, and what would offend him. How the HELL are they supposed to know any of these things? They were just enjoying the show. I didn't see an angry or hateful face on ANY of these kids. We don't care if he makes money off this, if he continues the charade that these boys are so hateful just because of their choice in headwear, their color, and their religion. Hm. We just don't care at this point. But we are Catholic, and if he thinks it is hard being a Native American, well it is hard being a Catholic too in America. It has ALWAYS been hard being a Catholic. We would prefer to end this on a fraternal note, and I am quite sure that if he humbly approached these kids and apologized for a collossal misunderstanding, I am pretty sure they will apologize to him for any perceived slights. If that isn't good enough, oh well. But if he wants someone to be ON HIS SIDE when it comes to Native American issues, you cannot ask for a better person than a Catholic. We are committed to social justice and these kids work hundreds of service hours in service to the poor and disaffected every year. They raise money for any number of causes supporting the poor and those treated unjustly. So it is really up to him how this goes. In a week or two we will be back to normal, he will no longer be on the news, but we will NOT have forgotten how this went down. Word to the wise. My dad always told me 'You can win the battle but lose the war". He might want to think about that.

flying eagle
flying eagle

Nathan lied, please have the integrity to post the truth., He is making himself look so bad. He taunted children and lied on national news about it. Those who refuse to see the truth are teaching them their children to lie and live in denial. Where is the intregrity and honesty?


@blu2cloud WRONG! I seriously do not see Greed in Trump at. Not like past Presidents. He won't walk away with earning a dime being an American President of this United States, he walked into a hornets nest of love for a previous President and his legacy. A hornets nest of hateful media, hateful politicians who see him as an outsider, not a Politician. Although Trump was accepted by 62 million Americans who support GOD, the Republic, Country and the Constitution! I do believe this Native brother is correct about one thing, we are going through the processing of Civil War, though this war is not about a little Red hat, Its not about Trump, this Civil war is about ending the Obama legacy, a legacy called Socialism. That's why this Native brother feels fear, hes not the only one. Many are scared, thats why they are angry, because the Obama legacy is change and people do not accept change such as Socialism, Communism or Marxism. The Republic will win this because we are our Government! We tell our Government what to do. Our Government does not tell us! Unlike a Democrat or Socialist Government who enslaves their people.



by all appearances there are limitations and short-comings into what "traditional" is especially in "being the Keeper of The Pipe". If used especially in a American USA Political is mis-interpreted and sadly mis-applied by Mr. Nathan Phillips. There is a USA War (Civil internally) occurring and Mr. Philips being a Vietnam-Era Veteran should have re-called and re-traced the training and teachings of Western Military Training into someplace as divisive as the Vietnam Political culture. Traditional applications should be more appropriately used in domestic-tribal affairs such as the Omaha Tribal Nation considering the Tribal Omaha officials misappropriating Omaha tribal funds and revenues meant for Omaha peoples. KEEP American Indian Traditional songs and practices out of the USA Political scene and apply it directly to Tribal Government political!