A diocese in Kentucky has apologized after jarring videos show a crowd of teenage boys sporting “Make America Great Again” hats as they seemingly intimidate and mock a group of Native Americans at the Indigenous Peoples March in Washington, D.C. on Friday.
In several videos circulated on social media, one teen stands directly in front of and stares at Nathan Phillips, an elder in Omaha, as he sang an intertribal song, Native American media reported.
At one point, the group of boys chanted, “Build that wall! Build that wall!” Video posted to Instagram captured Phillips’ response to that phrase after the confrontation.
“This is indigenous lands. We’re not supposed to have walls. We never did,” he said.
Hunter Hooligan, a passerby who posted a video of the incident to Instagram, said the boys crowded around the demonstrators for about 10 to 15 minutes.
“I was so confused about why these boys would go out of their way to harass such a small, vulnerable group,” Hooligan wrote. “Parents and chaperones stood on the sidelines, choosing not to intervene or reign (sic) back the group.”
The Cincinnati Enquirer reported that the teenagers were students from Covington Catholic, an all-boys school in Park Hills, Kentucky. The school’s website indicates that its students were in Washington for the 2019 March for Life, an anti-abortion demonstration.
In a statement issued Saturday, the Diocese of Covington confirmed that the young men pictured in the video were Covington students and apologized to Phillips.
“We condemn the actions of the Covington Catholic High School students towards Nathan Phillips specifically, and Native Americans in general, Jan. 18, after the March for Life, in Washington, D.C. We extend our deepest apologies to Mr. Phillips. This behavior is opposed to the Church’s teachings on the dignity and respect of the human person,” the diocese said.
“The matter is being investigated and we will take appropriate action, up to and including expulsion,” they added, also extending an apology to March for Life organizers and attendees.
State Rep. Ruth Buffalo, a North Dakota state lawmaker and member of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation, said she was saddened to see students showing disrespect to an elder who is also a U.S. military veteran at what was supposed to be a celebration of all cultures.
“The behavior shown in that video is just a snapshot of what indigenous people have faced and are continuing to face,” Buffalo said.
She said she hoped it would lead to some kind of meeting with the students to provide education on issues facing Native Americans.
U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland of New Mexico sharply criticized what she called a display of “blatant hate, disrespect, and intolerance.”
“This Veteran put his life on the line for our country,” she tweeted Saturday. “Heartbreaking.”
The Associated Press contributed to this story.