Since Saturday morning, social media attention has focused on the Covington Catholic School students seen mocking and harassing Native American activists in Washington, DC in several viral videos. Several of the students have been identified, their parents have spoken out and the diocese has issued a statement condemning their actions.
We believe it’s just as important — perhaps moreso — to center the other person in the video, Omaha elder Nathan Phillips.
As reported by multiple media outlets, Phillips, originally from Nebraska, is an elder of the Omaha Nation. A former Marine and Vietnam War veteran, Philips was co-founder of the Native Youth Alliance in Washington, DC. The non-profit works with and “invests in young Native American leaders to spark culturally based community change”. “Uncle Nathan,” as he was called by the group, also annually visited the National Arlington Cemetery with a peace pipe to pay tribute to his fellow Native American veterans. He is known as the “keeper of the sacred pipe,” as reported in Indian Country Today.
Phillips was a water protector, participating in the Standing Rock protests that took place in North Dakota in 2016 and 2017, staying at the camp from November 2016 until it closed. To commemorate the camp and the first anniversary of its eviction, Phillips led and helped organized a four-day prayer walk in February of 2018 with 50 others. The group walked not only to their camp site, but to Backwater Bridge where violent clashes between water protectors and law enforcement took place.
Philips has also starred in a music video and the subject of a documentary. In 2012, Mr. Phillips, playing himself, was featured in the Skrillex and Damian Marley video “Make it Bun Dem.” He and his departed wife Shoshana were also the focus of the award-winning 2013 documentary film Between Earth and Sky, which captured their return to Omaha after her diagnosis of bone-marrow cancer. She died in 2014.