Haskell president not surprised by his former student’s peaceful stance when being mocked by teenagers in D.C.

photo by: Associated Press

In this Friday, Jan. 18, 2019 image made from video provided by the Survival Media Agency, a teenager wearing a "Make America Great Again" hat, center left, stands in front of an elderly Native American singing and playing a drum in Washington. (Survival Media Agency via AP)

Dan Wildcat hadn’t seen Nathan Phillips for years, but when viral videos on social media showed his former student maintaining a stoic calm as he was mocked by teenagers in Washington, D.C., he wasn’t surprised.

Wildcat, acting president of Haskell Indian Nations University, taught Phillips, now 64, back in the late 1980s and he remembers him for his humility and for his dedication to helping young people.

Both men had served in the military during the Vietnam War, and then came to Haskell, Wildcat told the Journal-World on Monday.

Phillips, a member of the Omaha Tribe, made international news as he kept singing and drumming Friday during the Indigenous Peoples March in Washington, D.C., despite being taunted by a group of teenagers from an all-boys Catholic school in Kentucky. Videos showed Phillips standing face-to-face with one high school boy wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat, while the boy’s classmates, many similarly attired, jeered and danced and made tomahawk chops with their hands.

The boys were in Washington to attend the March for Life rally, which was also Friday. The boys’ behavior at the Lincoln Memorial was widely condemned, and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Covington, Ky., apologized to Phillips. The boy who stared down Phillips as he drummed later issued a release from a public relations firm saying that he was misunderstood and was merely trying to defuse a situation that began when his group came into conflict with a group of men.

Phillips took several of Wildcat’s classes at Haskell, including American Indian Studies. Later, when Phillips was doing work in the D.C. area, the men’s paths crossed several times at meetings.

While Phillips did not graduate from Haskell, Wildcat said, he held true to the dreams he expressed as a student.

“When he left, he said he wanted to create a foundation and to work with children,” Wildcat said. “He was really committed to serving young people and children.”

photo by: Associated Press

In this Feb. 22, 2017, file photo, a large crowd representing a majority of the remaining Dakota Access Pipeline protesters, including Nathan Phillips, center with glasses, march out of the Oceti Sakowin camp before the deadline set for evacuation of the camp near Cannon Ball, N.D. Phillips says he felt compelled to get between a group of black religious activists and largely white students with his ceremonial drum to defuse a potentially dangerous situation at a rally in Washington. (Mike McCleary/The Bismarck Tribune via AP, File)

While Wildcat wasn’t at the march and doesn’t know all the details of what happened, he feels confident that Phillips’ account is accurate.

“That fits with the Nathan I knew at Haskell,” Wildcat said. “I would not have remembered him if he hadn’t made an impression on me as being very sincere.”

Manny King, a guidance counselor at Haskell, also knew Phillips when he was in Lawrence. King said Phillips had a gentle nature.

“He epitomizes the Indian way,” King said. “He’s humble, generous and always giving to others. He’s not confrontational. He’s good-hearted and would give you the shirt off his back.”

At one time, King participated in powwows with Phillips. However, the two haven’t seen each other in 10 years.

“He is a praying guy,” King said. “He has a real conviction for what he does, and he’s the kind of guy who will speak up for an Indian cause.”

While Eric Anderson, who teaches American Studies at Haskell, didn’t know Phillips, he plans to talk to his students when they return to class on Tuesday about what occurred in Washington.

“It could be a catalyst for a lot of different responses,” Anderson told the Journal-World.

“We cannot be colored by anger,” he said. “Yes, it’s disgusting and abhorrent (what happened to Phillips). But what can we do to build bridges and foster greater understanding? This is an opportunity to do this.

“We have lost direction on how to be human to each other.”

Attempts by the Lawrence Journal-World to reach Phillips were unsuccessful.


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