Native american elder nathan phillips, in his own words –

The interview was conducted Saturday after the video went viral. Since the interview, the diocese in charge of the school has denounced the students’ actions, a lawmaker has defended them and the boy in the video, Nick Sandmann, has denied characterizations of his and his classmates’ behavior and said he was simply standing in front of Phillips to let him know he wouldn’t be baited into an altercation.

Phillips: There was a disturbance there on the Lincoln Monument grounds. We were finishing up with Indigenous Peoples March and rally and there were some folks there that were expressing their (First Amendment) rights there, freedom of speech.

… Then there was this young group of young students that came there and were offended by their speech, and it escalated into an ugly situation that I found myself in the middle of. Yeah, I found myself in the middle of it, sort of woke up to it.

Phillips: Yes, that’s the impression that everybody has, and I guess that’s what I was doing. I didn’t realize that’s what I was doing. When I started taking those steps and using the drum, it was just spur of the moment. I don’t like to say it that way, but it was just, “What do you do? What do you do now?” Here’s a moment where something that’s really ugly in our society, in America, something that’s just come to a boiling point, as they say. Does that make sense?

Phillips: Oh, what I was witnessing was just hate? Racism? Well, hate. What I’m saying is that when these folks came there, these other folks were saying their piece, and these others they got offended with it because they were both just expressing their own views. And if it’s racism, that’s what it was because the folks that were having their moment there, they were saying things that I don’t know if I agreed with them or not, but some of it was educational, and it was truth, and it was history about religious views and ideologies, but these other folks, the young students, they couldn’t see it. They had one point of view, it seemed, and that was that their point of view was the only point of view that was worthwhile. And that’s now what I was feeling.

Phillips: I think so. I think that was the push, that we need to use the drum, use our prayer and bring a balance, bring a calming to the situation. I didn’t assume that I had any kind of power to do that, but at the same time, I didn’t feel that I could just stand there anymore and not do something. It looked like these young men were going to attack these guys. They were going to hurt them. They were going to hurt them because they didn’t like the color of their skin. They didn’t like their religious views. They were just here in front of the Lincoln — Lincoln is not my hero, but at the same time, there was this understanding that he brought the (Emancipation Proclamation) or freed the slaves, and here are American youth who are ready to, look like, lynch these guys. To be honest, they looked like they were going to lynch them. They were in this mob mentality. Where were their parents? Because they were obvious a student group. Where were their–

Phillips: Yeah, chaperones. Where were they? What were they doing? Why did they allow them to come to such a boiling point? To allow such hate and racism, just to be — just to be, and not teach them that this is wrong. America foundations, freedoms, the reason white people came to this country is for freedom of religion, freedom of speech. Not to allow these men to have their freedom to say what they felt was hurting them as a people, as a religion. I was listening to what they were saying. I was there for a different purpose.

Phillips: When I was there and I was standing there and I seen that group of people in front of me and I seen the angry faces and all of that, I realized I had put myself in a really dangerous situation. Here’s a group of people who were angry at somebody else and I put myself in front of that, and all of a sudden, I’m the one whose all that anger and all that wanting to have the freedom to just rip me apart, that was scary. And I’m a Vietnam times veteran and I know that mentality of “There’s enough of us. We can do this.”

Phillips: That was exactly the thing is that I was there. I seen the mass of people. I had realized where I’m at and what I was doing, and I realized there was other people with me and I didn’t want them to get hurt because there was 100-plus of these young men who were well-fed and healthy and strong and ready to do harm to somebody. And they just wanted that point of “This is it” and spring. If this young man thought that he was that point and what I was trying to do, I realized where I was at. I needed an out. I needed to escape. I needed to get away. I needed to retreat somehow, but the only way I could retreat at that moment, is what I see, is just to go forward, and when I started going forward and that mass of groups of people started separating and moving aside to allow me to move out of the way or to proceed, this young fellow put himself in front of me and wouldn’t move. If I took another step, I would be putting my person into his presence, into his space and I would’ve touched him and that would’ve been the thing that the group of people would’ve needed to spring on me. Because if I would’ve reached out with my drum or with my hands and touched him, that would’ve given them — I did that. I struck out, and that’s not what I was doing. The song I was singing, the reason for it, was to bring unity and to bring love and compassion back into our minds and our beings as men and as protector of what is right. I was raised away from my family. I was put in foster care and so I didn’t have a traditional indigenous upbringing. I was brought up just like these young guys were brought up. Well, maybe I wasn’t Catholic school, but I was public school. And when I went back home to my reservation and I ask questions — “Do you have an Indian name? Do you know where I could get some moccasins?” … I wanted to know, and that cousin of mine that was sitting there, standing there and I was asking him these questions. He says, Go home, white boy.” That hurt.

Phillips: When they said, “Let’s go hit the drum, let’s go sing, let’s reclaim our space here” because this was the Indigenous Peoples March rally, and when these two groups came together and started that and I was witnessing as it escalated from just two small groups, then the other one just went back and got more people, went back and got more people, went back and got more people until there were over 100 people, maybe 200 young men there facing down what? Four individuals? Why did they need 200 people there other than it’s hate and racism? They had their target. They had their prey. And so I wish somebody would’ve been able to stand in front of the 7th Cavalry and my relatives at Wounded Knee. I wish somebody would’ve stood there and said, “No, you can’t do this.”

CNN: We were talking about the issue between these two groups, the one was the black Israelites and the other was these mostly Caucasian young men. You were standing there and they were standing around you chanting. … How did you feel? What did you feel that they were sort of doing to you or what are your feelings? Their response has been we were just chanting our school chants and we weren’t jeering or we weren’t making fun of anybody. We were just standing around and he just happened to be in the middle of our group, is sort of the way they’re saying this went. How did you feel about it?

Phillips: They were there looking for trouble, looking for something. Everybody knows the right to life and (pro-choice), it’s been like this and they’re hateful to each other. And it’s because I’m a veteran — I’m a Vietnam times veteran — that these two groups even have the right in this country to have protests, to have conflicting opinions. If they were doing that, they should’ve done that there and then when they come into public, that wasn’t the place for that. That was a public forum where we was at. We were still under the protection of our permit for the indigenous peoples rally.

Phillips: No, not happy go lucky. If they was happy go lucky, we would’ve been laughing and enjoying each other’s presence and company because that’s the kind of thing I like to do. I like to meet people. I like to find out where they’re from, what they’re up to, in a good way. But what was happening there, there was nothing happy go lucky about it. It was just, “Build the wall” and some of the things that I heard but can’t really say I exactly heard that because it was way over there, and they could say, “Oh, nobody said that. It wasn’t us who said that.” So it’s one of those he-said, she-said, things and what I’m saying is that they were very aggressive and they were very ready to hurt somebody. They just needed a reason. Whether I was the one who defused it or not, I wouldn’t have been able to do it with out my relatives that were with me at the time. My other brother that was singing and the (inaudible) that was standing with me at that time. There were sons of us that were indigenous, we stood together.

Phillips: Yeah, I will pray for them. That’s what the whole part was was a prayer. The use of the drum, the song, that was a prayer. What I said to them at the end was, “Relatives!” and I got their attention and I said, “Make America great.” They said, “How?” What they were doing wasn’t making America great. … the whole idea, the spirit of America, that wasn’t it. That wasn’t American spirit there that they were putting out there.