An investigation commissioned by the Diocese of Covington (Kentucky) cleared Covington Catholic High School students on Wednesday of wrongdoing. But Nathan Phillips, the Native American elder who sang before the chanting students, stands by his “original observation that the situation seemed potentially dangerous” and that the students were disrespectful.
Phillips played a drum before students last month on the National Mall. Some students performed the tomahawk chop, which many Native Americans find racially insensitive.
Phillips issued a statement through the Lakota People’s Law Project to Indian Country Today, reiterating that he felt compelled to sing between the students and the Black Hebrew Israelites to serve as a “peacemaker.”
“I ask everybody to remember what we all saw – students performing a culturally-appropriated ‘school chant’ and the tomahawk chop just feet away from me on that fateful day,” Phillips said.
Phillips does not mention Nick Sandmann in his statement. The Covington Catholic junior’s attorney responded to questions about the family’s reaction to the report and subsequent letter from Bishop Rev. Roger Foys, in which he exonerates the students.
“The Sandmann Family is pleased with, but not surprised by, the conclusions of the investigation conducted at the instance of the Diocese of Covington,” L. Lin Wood wrote by email. “The report is compelling evidence which confirms the truth of Nick’s statements.”
Wood criticized Foys for condemning CovCath students’ actions one day after the incident. Wood said it was released “without any investigation whatsoever” and “with a reckless disregard for the truth.”
The Diocese of Covington is among more than 50 groups or individuals sent preservation letters by the Sandmann family’s attorneys in anticipation of possible lawsuits, the attorneys have said.
Wood also emphasized that Nick did not approach Phillips, did not block his path and did not mock or threaten him.
Phillips initially told The Washington Post that a “guy in the hat” had “blocked my way.” Nick is seen in footage wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat.
The investigation was conducted by Greater Cincinnati Investigation Inc. Chad Moran and three others spent 240 hours reviewing “internet activity” and interviewing students, parents and faculty.
Moran, in an email, declined to name the three other investigators.
Though the report, Wood wrote, corrected the public record regarding Nick and established his innocence, it “will not allow him to move forward with life as he knew it before this incident.”
“Every member of the mainstream and social media mob who falsely attacked, vilified, or threatened this 16-year old boy should hang their heads in shame and be held fully accountable in a court of law for their inexcusable wrongdoing,” Wood wrote.
Wood agreed with the report’s conclusion that no students engaged in racist or offensive statements, a conclusion rejected by some Native Americans.
Wood cited “hundreds of thousands of fans” of professional sports teams with culturally appropriated mascots who perform the chop. Many Native Americans condemn such mascots as offensive.
“The chop is often performed across the country in conjunction with drum beats and chants,” Wood wrote.
Phillips pointed to the tomahawk chop performed around him by some Covington Catholic students as the reason he felt their actions were disrespectful.
“That this racially insensitive behavior is still widely seen in America in 2019 does not make it okay,” he wrote. “(And, from my perspective, it was disrespectful, racially charged and harmful. I remain hopeful that we, as a nation, can all learn a better way to treat one another from this incident.”