21 Jan 2019

Video of US teenagers taunting Native American draws fire

7:01 am on 21 January 2019

Subsequent to RNZ’s publication of this January 21, 2019 BBC story, fresh context emerged within other stories published. That context is accessible via story links embedded in this story, at the request of the NZ Media Council.

Footage of a group of teenagers - many wearing Make America Great Again caps - taunting a Native American man in Washington DC has drawn criticism.

Students from a Kentucky Catholic High School taunted Nathan Phillips.

Students from a Kentucky Catholic High School taunted Nathan Phillips. Photo: Instagram / ka_ya11

The teenagers, students at Kentucky's Covington Catholic High School, are seen mocking Omaha elder Nathan Phillips as he sings and drums.

The students were taking part in an anti-abortion rally on Friday, while Mr Phillips came for an Indigenous Peoples' March.

The school apologised to Mr Phillips.

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The footage of the incident went viral on social media.

A number of users said the youths' behaviour was "appalling" and their parents and school "should be ashamed".

Congresswoman Deb Haaland, one of the first Native American women to be elected to Congress, tweeted that the students showed "blatant hate, disrespect, and intolerance".

The Diocese of Covington and Covington Catholic High School later issued a statement offering "our deepest apologies to Mr Phillips".

"We condemn the actions of the Covington Catholic High School students towards Nathan Phillips specifically, and Native Americans in general," the statement reads.

It added that the incident was being investigated and "appropriate action" would be taken.

What did the footage show?

The teens are seen mocking Mr Phillips and his companion, as the two men sing the American Indian Movement song.

One boy, in particular, is captured staring at Mr Phillips while many other students are heard mockingly singing the song.

In separate footage later shared on social media, Mr Phillips is seen approaching the boys as he sings.

After the incident, Mr Phillips was quoted by US media as saying: "I heard them saying 'build that wall, build that wall'".

"This is indigenous land: you're not supposed to have walls here.

"We never had a prison; we always took care of our elders, took care of our children, always provided for them, taught them right from wrong.

"I wish I could... put that energy to making this country really, really great," Mr Phillips said.