Shared from the 1/20/2019 Star Tribune eEdition

Boys taunt Omaha elder; their school apologizes

They were Catholic high school students who came to Washington on a field trip to rally at the March for Life.

He was an American Indian Vietnam War veteran who was there to raise awareness at the Indigenous Peoples March.

They intersected Friday in an unsettling encounter outside the Lincoln Memorial — a throng of cheering and jeering high school boys, predominantly white and wearing “Make America Great Again” gear, surrounding an American Indian elder.

The episode was being investigated and the students could face punishment, up to and including expulsion, their school said in a statement Saturday afternoon.

In video footage that was shared widely on social media, one boy, wearing the red hat that has become a signature of President Donald Trump, stood directly in front of the elder, who stared impassively ahead while playing a ceremonial drum.

Some boys in the group wore clothing associated with Covington Catholic High School, an all-male college preparatory school in Park Hills, Ky., near Cincinnati.

The school had advertised that students would attend this year’s March for Life Rally, which took place in Washington on Friday. In a letter to parents, the trip was described as an opportunity for students to live out their faith and demonstrate in support of all life “born and unborn.”

In a statement, the Diocese of Covington and Covington Catholic High School condemned the behavior by the students and extended their “deepest apologies” to the elder, as well as to American Indians in general.

“This behavior is opposed to the Church’s teachings on the dignity and respect of the human person,” the statement said. The school’s website and Facebook page were down as of Saturday afternoon.

The encounter became the latest touchpoint for U.S. racial tensions, particularly under Trump, who has painted immigrants in broad strokes as rapists and drug dealers and recently mocked Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., with a reference to Wounded Knee, sacred ground for American Indians whose ancestors died there.

The episode drew widespread condemnation from American Indians, Catholics and politicians alike.

“This veteran put his life on the line for our country,” Rep. Deb Haaland, D-N.M., who recently became one of the first American Indian women to serve in Congress, said on Twitter. “The students’ display of blatant hate, disrespect, and intolerance is a signal of how common decency has decayed under this administration. Heartbreaking.”

Sisters of Mercy, a group of Roman Catholic nuns, condemned the behavior in the videos as disturbing and bigoted. “Racism and intolerance in all forms go directly against Catholic social teaching,” the Sisters of Mercy said.

The Indigenous Peoples Movement identified the man in the videos as Nathan Phillips, an Omaha elder who is the former director of the Native Youth Alliance, a group that works to ensure that traditional culture and spiritual ways are upheld for future generations.

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