‘Before anyone else came here, we never had walls’ – Native-American veteran stands strong against racism

Nathan Phillips
Support us and go ad-free

On 18 January, the first ever Indigenous People’s March and an anti-abortion demo called March for Life both took place in Washington DC. After the marches, a well-documented confrontation occurred. This shone a brutal light on just how dangerous Donald Trump’s lies and racism have become. It also shows how vital it is to support Indigenous rights at such a crucial time in history.

“You’re not supposed to have walls here”

A crowd of mostly white, male school kids jeered and shouted whilst surrounding an Omaha Nation elder, Nathan Phillips. Many wore ‘Make America Great Again’ (MAGA) caps. And one child’s sneering face-off against the peacefully drumming Phillips went viral.

Phillips said he was trying to ‘defuse tensions’ between the boys and a small group of very vocalBlack Hebrew Israelites‘.

After the confrontation, Phillips said:

I heard them saying ‘build that wall, build that wall’…

This is Indigenous land… You’re not supposed to have walls here. We never did. For millennia, before anyone else came here, we never had walls. We never had a prison. We always took care of our elders… our children… we taught them right from wrong.

In tears as he spoke, Phillips – who’s also a military veterancontinued:

Read on...

I wish I could see that energy in that young mass of young men down there… to put that energy into making this country really, really great – helping those that are hungry.

“A country that STILL defends and enables white supremacy”

Phillips summed up what many people felt about the episode. Because all the talk about divisive walls has only helped to boost white supremacists:

On 14 January, Trump unleashed more racist bile as he belittled the Wounded Knee Massacre in 1890. This was just one act in the genocide that murdered millions of Native American people after colonisation. One Native American said Trump’s comment was “equivalent to making a ‘joke’ about 9/11, Pearl Harbor or the Holocaust”.

Just days later, the young people above felt bold enough to copy this pattern of mocking Native Americans in public.

Then, of course, Trump waded in to defend the students.

“That song was a prayer”

But this whole situation goes far deeper. Because for Native Americans, playing the drum “is also a political act”. Following Wounded Knee, it was illegal to “freely practice their religion” until the 1978 American Indian Religious Freedom Act. Drumming is a sacred practice. And Phillips’s song had clear intent, as he told Indian Country Today:

I’m still scared. I’m still feeling vulnerable. But I’m not gonna back down. Those young people from that school, that song was a prayer for their future and my children’s future. We’re facing critical times and we’ve got to make choices, and they’re going to be some hard choices… I see a future though… I see a bright, beautiful future if we want it… It’s ours to pass on to the next generation, but we got to be willing for it.

Indigenous rights

As The Canary previously reported, two Native American women recently took office in Congress for the first time. Deb Haaland and Sharice Davids offer some hope that the battle for Indigenous rights now has some political representation. And both women condemned the harassment of Phillips:

The November midterms marked a turning point for women and minorities in US politics. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib also become the first Muslim women in Congress. Alongside Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, this new generation is already shaking up white, male, establishment politics. But in December 2018, Trump began a shutdown of the US government (which would soon become the longest ever). His aim? To force through contentious plans for a wall on the Mexican border. So there’s a race against the clock to halt Trump’s foul, racist, sexist views gaining further influence and causing even greater damage.

As Omar also noted:

No excuse

The braying mob of students reportedly attend an elite Catholic private school. The fact that this school sends mostly male children to protest against women’s reproductive rights is bad enough. But a PR company distributed a ‘statement’ defending the child who leered in Phillip’s face.

But while the establishment closes ranks, Phillips’s bravery wins. He is a lifelong environmental campaigner. He also protested at Standing Rock to halt the Dakota Access pipeline. For most Indigenous people, protecting their land, their fundamental human rights, and our planet is the basis of both politics and religion. As we tip closer into environmental catastrophe, we need to listen to Phillips, Haaland, Davids and their tribes now more than ever.


CORRECTION: Phillips is a military veteran. However, while he served at the same time as the Vietnam War, he did not fight in it. The article was updated at 4pm (GMT) on 23 January to make that clear.

Featured image via screengrab

We know everyone is suffering under the Tories - but the Canary is a vital weapon in our fight back, and we need your support

The Canary Workers’ Co-op knows life is hard. The Tories are waging a class war against us we’re all having to fight. But like trade unions and community organising, truly independent working-class media is a vital weapon in our armoury.

The Canary doesn’t have the budget of the corporate media. In fact, our income is over 1,000 times less than the Guardian’s. What we do have is a radical agenda that disrupts power and amplifies marginalised communities. But we can only do this with our readers’ support.

So please, help us continue to spread messages of resistance and hope. Even the smallest donation would mean the world to us.

Support us
  • Show Comments
    1. Alas, Canary, you appear to have fallen for the same con as the mainstream press on this occasion. The short extract from a longer video can be interpreted in this way, but the longer video evidence seems nto show that the young white male school students were targeted and taunted by abusive racist adults, and the Native American man seemed to deliberately set out to cause more trouble, and deliberately misrepresented the facts to the press. There seems to have been a rush to judgement here, and the youths, far from being the aggressors, were the targets of aggression.
      If I have this wrong, I beg that you give a full response to what seems to be the evidence shown in more full video recordings available online. However, if you find that you, too, were the victims of misinformation, I trust that we wlll see a full retraction and apology.
      I sincerely value the information that is provided to the public by the Canary. You have a valuable job to do, and your reputation as a provider of honest, fair, balanced reporting is of great value. I hate to see this being jeopardized by a manufactured story such as this one.

    2. This is an evolving story but I think the whole affair has done more to highlight our own internal prejudices and beliefs. Most people had made up their minds after watching a 30 second clip of a group of children. The characters or caricatures already formed, let the righteous indignation flow and it will flow in all directions now. I suggest everyone watches the longer videos on line (it would be very interesting to know if the author of the above article has) as they are a disturbing snippet into the complications of race and class in America and beyond. I for one do not think it is right to publicly shame children, guilty or not and if more evidence comes to light refuting the allegations against these children I hope those whose were so vociferous in condemnation are as equally committed in apology to what is after all a group of children.

    3. I respect and read the Canary daily, but to print this story without vetting it has shown me that fake news can be posted anywhere. This story has been shown to be false even MSN The Toronto Star…followed up with a longer version that shows what really happened if you care to watch the entire video. If you research who Nathan Phillips is and where he comes from and follow the money (Clinton Foundation?) you will see how people quickly showed their prejudices against young, white, Christian (heaven forbid) males who like their current President, I personally think Trump is just as disgusting as all the other Presidents the US has had…excepting that he wants out of certain wars which has now become unpopular with the left…we have all been snowed.

    4. Deary, deary me. If you spent half the time researching the story correctly than you did copy and pasting the twitter frenzy cretins, you would very quickly realise that this was fake news of the highest order. Time to retract and apologise methinks.

    Leave a Reply

    Join the conversation

    Please read our comment moderation policy here.