An independent investigation company has issued a four-page investigative report summarizing the findings of the incident that occurred at the Lincoln Memorial on January 18, 2019, between Covington Catholic high school students, Native American participants of the Indigenous People’s March, to include Nathan Phillips and Black Hebrew Israelites.
The company hired by the Covington Diocese has concluded statements from students and chaperones are “remarkably consistent’ Phillip’s statements are not, and that no evidence of offensive or racist statements were made by students to Mr. Phillips or members of his group, though they did do the tomahawk chop.
According to Greater Cincinnati Investigation, Inc., the investigative company hired on January 22nd, investigators “devoted over 240 man hours and utilized four investigators. The company interviewed 43 students, and nine faculty chaperones, and four parent chaperones. The company said it was unable to contact Nathan Phillips or other Native participants in the march. The company stated they had traveled to the home of Phillips, waited for six hours, but were unable to meet with him.
The company also reported reviewing 50 hours of internet activity to include major news networks, YouTube and social media to include Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
In the report, the company lists several key findings to include reasons for traveling to the event in DC, remarks exchanged when interacting with the Black Hebrew Israelites and later with Nathan Phillips. The company stated, “...none of the students felt threatened by Mr. Phillips.”
One of the key findings widely reported by media outlets thus far regarding racist comments is written as follows:
We found no evidence of offensive or racist statements by students to Mr. Phillips or members of his group. Some students performed a "tomahawk chop" to the beat of Mr. Phillips' drumming and some joined in Mr. Phillips' chant.
In the wake of the report’s findings, Lance Soto, from the American Indian Movement in the Covington region, told Cincinnati.com, "I hope that our people realize that it’s not up to white people to determine what is racist or derogatory toward Native Americans."
The report continues to describe the incidents that occur and supports evidence that students were soon thereafter asked to depart to get onto buses that had arrived and that the situation was diffused.
The report goes on to state a seven-second video cannot confirm if the students were from Covington, an individual that had stated “It’s not rape if you enjoy it” was not from the school, and that regarding the MAGA hats, “We found no evidence of a school policy prohibiting political apparel on school sponsored trips.”
The report had also described several reasons for the students attending the DC pro-life March for Life rally to include “because of their faith,” to “get service hours,” “get out of school” or to “spend time with their friends.”
The report also states that Nick Sandmann’s statement “appears to accurately reflect the facts” and that “Mr. Phillips’ public interviews contain some inconsistencies, and we have not been able to resolve them or verify his comments due to our inability to contact him.”
The report's conclusion
Greater Cincinnati Investigation, Inc. investigator Chad Moran issued a conclusion at the bottom of the report which stated:
The statements we obtained from students and chaperones are remarkably consistent. And, the statements are consistent with the videos we reviewed. As with any investigation, new evidence could come to light in the future. We are professionally satisfied that, at this time, it is proper to close the investigation and issue this final report.
Additionally, Bishop Rev. Roger Foys has now said the Covington High School students "can move forward with their lives."
On the Diocese of Covington website, Foys writes in a public letter in part:
My dear Covington Catholic High School Parents,
I am pleased to inform you that my hope and expectation expressed in my letter to you of 25 January that the results of our inquiry into the events of 18 January at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. would “exonerate our students so that they can move forward with their lives” has been realized. Our inquiry, conducted by a third party firm that has no connection with Covington Catholic High School or the Diocese of Covington, has demonstrated that our students did not instigate the incident that occurred at the Lincoln Memorial.
Indian Country responses to the report
Other voices in Indian Country did not share the views of the company.
A contributor to Indian Country Today and policy director for the Center for World Indigenous Studies at CSU San Marcos, Dina Gilio-Whitaker, Colville Confederated Tribes, told the Washington Post that the report was “unfortunate and disgusting.” “Maybe they didn’t say overtly racist things, but the context of the incident needs to be analyzed,” she said.
Chase Iron Eyes, spokesperson for the Indigenous Peoples March and attorney for the Lakota People's Law Project told Indian Country Today via email, “It’s unsurprising to us that an investigative team hired by the school would fail to hold the students accountable for their behavior that day—or to hold the parents and guardians accountable for what they enabled. The culture that allows for this kind of behavior is where the blame should be placed. We are living in a nation where our president makes jokes about the Trail of Tears and Wounded Knee. It’s possible that people within the Covington Catholic community are not willingly expressing racism, but as is clear from the report’s findings, there’s a lack of understanding about the racism inherent in the tomahawk chop.”
“That this community does not understand our perspectives on these important matters shows how much they have to learn and how far we need to go to teach the painful history of Indigenous cultures to our youth. This is exactly why we marched in the first place. This is a time to reiterate Nathan’s call for prayer, peace with justice and forgiveness.”
“Our continuing hope is that we can communicate the realities of our history and perspective, increase justice for Indigenous peoples, and eventually find a place of understanding that decreases the divisions keeping us locked in a cycle of violence and hate.”
Follow Indian Country Today’s associate editor Vincent Schilling (Akwesasne Mohawk) on Twitter - @VinceSchilling