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Nathan Phillips (activist)

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Nathan Phillips
Nathan Phillips in 2012
Native name
Sky Man[1]
Born (1954-02-22) February 22, 1954 (age 64)[2]
ResidenceWashington, D.C., US
NationalityAmerican Indian, Omaha people
Other namesNathaniel Richard "Nate" Stanard[3]

Nathan Phillips, also known as Sky Man (born February 22, 1954), is an Omaha Native American political activist.

Early life

Philips was born in Lincoln, Nebraska,[4] where he spent his first five years in a traditional Omaha Nation tribal home.[5][4] From about the age of five, when he was separated from his mother, he was raised in a white foster family.[6] He was given the adoptive name Nathaniel Richard Stanard.[3] He went to Lincoln Southeast High School.[7] He later moved to Washington DC.[8]

According to local news reports from Lincoln obtained by The Washington Examiner, Phillips was charged with numerous crimes in the 1970s including a charge for escaping from prison in 1974; a charge of assault in 1974; multiple charges for underage possession of alcohol in 1972, 1973, and 1975; and negligent driving and driving without a license in 1978;[3][9] he was described as a "thug for hire" for the 14 year-period following 1976.[10]

Military service

Phillips is a Vietnam era veteran who served in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves from 20 May 1972 to 5 May 1976,[11] though he never fought in the Vietnam War or was deployed to Vietnam.[12] Military records show that he spent his entire service as a refrigerator technician in Nebraska and California after being trained as an anti tank missleman. Phillips was on active duty from 12 August 1974 to 5 May 1976 as a refrigerator technician. He was discharged as a private following disciplinary issues, including three AWOL incidents.[13][14] Phillips has said he was victimized for his role as a veteran.[15]


Nathan Phillips (right) at the 2017 Native Nations Rise March

At the end of the 20th century, Phillips was working to create a foster care system run by American Indians for American Indian children, whom he wanted to gain an appreciation for their heritage: "I don't want our children to think that prison is the only place for them to go."[7]

The New York Times identified Phillips as a former Director of the Native Youth Alliance, a group that works to ensure that traditional culture and spiritual ways are upheld for future generations of Native Americans,[16] and that he leads an annual ceremony honoring Native American war veterans in Arlington National Cemetery.[16]

The Guardian called him "a well-known Native American activist who was among those leading the Standing Rock protests in 2016 and 2017 against the construction of an oil pipeline in North Dakota".[17][18] Phillips was among the last of the protesters when law enforcement evicted the camps and effectively ended the protests, which for his part were "a prayer (...) a commitment to stand for our youth, for our children, for nature and for myself, standing for my nation."[19]

Phillips was in the news in Michigan in 2015 when he alleged a group of students from Eastern Michigan University harassed him.[20][Notes 1] A January 2019 article in the Washington Post described Phillips as a "a veteran in the indigenous rights movement".[21]

A January 2019 article in Indian Country Today describes Phillips as a "keeper of a sacred pipe".[22][21]

Between Earth and Sky

Phillips is the subject of the award-winning 2013 documentary film Between Earth and Sky in which he and his wife, Shoshana, travel back to his Omaha reservation after his wife was diagnosed with bone-marrow cancer. She died of the disease in 2014.[23][24][25][26]

"Make It Bun Dem" video

In 2012, Phillips and his son appeared in the music video for "Make It Bun Dem", a song by Skrillex and Damian "Jr. Gong" Marley.[27] In a February 20, 2017, interview that took place during the Dakota Access Pipeline protests (DAPL), Phillips explained he had answered the casting call at the time because he wanted to help his children cope with his wife's cancer.[28]

2019 Indigenous Peoples March incident

On January 18, 2019, snippets of videos recorded at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., appeared to show Phillips being harassed by a group of fifty to sixty high school boys who had attended the coinciding annual March for Life; they were widely shared through social media, including Twitter and YouTube, with one video reaching two million viewers in two hours.[29][30][31] Philips had walked towards and into a group of young men from the private, all-male Covington Catholic High School (CovCath), who had traveled from Kentucky on a school trip to attend the anti-abortion March for Life.[Notes 2] He began to chant the AIM Song, a traditional Native American inter-tribal powwow song.[32][22] Videos showed a student, later identified as a junior at Covington Catholic High School,[33] and Philips facing each other inches apart while Philips chanted and beat his drum, while some of the students in the background allegedly did "Tomahawk chops" and danced.[32] Several students wore red "Make America Great Again" caps.[33]

The videos initially caused a media reaction against the school and the students. Shortly after the video went viral, CovCath's communications director released a statement regretting that the incident took place.[30] On January 19, 2019, multiple students that were present at the incident stated that it had been skewed. The involved student released a statement saying that the students were confronted by four members of the Black Hebrew Israelite movement, that Philips tried to provoke the students and that they never chanted "build the wall" or used any racist language or gestures.[33][34][35] Interviewed after the event, Phillips said, "While I was there singing, I heard them saying 'Build that wall! Build that wall!', you know... this is indigenous land! ...We're not supposed to have walls here, we never did—for millennium. Before anybody else came here we never had walls. We never had a prison. We always took care of our elders, we took care of our children,"[36] and ""There was that moment when I realized I've put myself between beast and prey, [t]hese young men were beastly and these old black individuals was their prey."[37] Multiple tapes of the confrontation examined by journalist Caitlin Flanagan fail to support Phillips' assertion that the students were aggressive or said or chanted about a "wall". Video footage also shows that the blacks, who belong to a group known as the Black Hebrew Israelites, shouted racist insults at a group of Native Americans and later at the Covington High School students.[38] Asked why he had approached the group of students, Philips said that he was trying to defuse a confrontation between the group of students and a small group of Black Hebrew Israelites who were shouting insults and profanities at the students.[32][33]


  1. ^ According to a April 22, 2015 Fox local new report by Dave Spencer, in 2015, Phillips filed a report of racial harassment with Eastern Michigan University campus police against 30 to 40 students who "referred to themselves as the Hurons, the former mascot at EMU", dressed as Native Americans for an American Indian theme party. He was "bombarded with racial slurs" and one of the students threw a beer can at him.
  2. ^ The March For Life also had a permit for a First Amendment demonstrations on the National Mall on that day. According to The Cut, CovCath sends an annual delegation of its students to attend the anti-abortion March For Life in Washington.


  1. ^ Maria Stanisheva, Between Earth and Sky (graduation film, 2012). See also: East Harlem Preservation, Inc., 'EHP TV Presents: Nathan Phillips in East Harlem (March 19, 2017)' (YouTube), "We had the great honor of meeting Sky Man (Nathan Phillips), an Omaha Tribe Elder and Water Protector, when he spoke at Urban Atabex Healing in Community Network & Bohio Atabei's Spring Equinox Gathering at Casabe Houses in East Harlem, NYC"; in the video, Phillips introduces himself as Sky Man.
  2. ^ Tribune, Jack Dura / Bismarck (February 24, 2018). "One year after pipeline protest's end, 'I would have done it..." Retrieved January 22, 2019.
  3. ^ a b c Native American activist Nathan Phillips has violent criminal record and escaped from jail as teenager (The Washington Examiner)
  4. ^ a b Kelley World-Herald staff, Matt (January 21, 2019) [November 26, 2000]. "Who is Nathan Phillips? Years ago, Omaha Tribe member said spiritual journey was grounded in mall prayer vigil". Omaha World Herald. Washington, D.C. Retrieved January 21, 2019. The Washington Post even stopped by, publishing a lengthy essay last week connecting Phillips' vigil to a well-mannered protest of Thanksgiving.
  5. ^ "A mourning wake up call". The Washington Post. November 21, 2000. Retrieved January 21, 2019.
  6. ^ "The Power of Nathan Phillips's Song". Vogue. Retrieved 2019-01-21.
  7. ^ a b Josh Funk, 'A split feather', The Daily Nebraskan January 11, 1999.
  8. ^ "Native American leader of Michigan: 'Mob mentality' in students was 'scary'". Detroit Free Press. Retrieved 2019-01-21.
  9. ^ Native American activist Nathan Phillips' past includes assault charge, escape from prison: report (Fox News)
  10. ^ Josh Funk (11 January 1999). "A split feather". The Daily Nebraskan. Retrieved 22 January 2019. Phillips was overwhelmed by the loss of his family, his troubled upbringing and the lack of ties to his own culture and turned to crime and drinking.For the next 14 years, he used the skills he learned in the Marines to work as a thug-for-hire.
  11. ^ Copp, Tara (January 23, 2019). "Tribal elder in viral standoff video was not a Vietnam veteran, military records show". Military Times. Retrieved January 26, 2019. Nathan Phillips, 64, spent four years in the Marine Corps Reserve and left in 1976 with the rank of private, or E-1, the Marines said in a statement providing his personal releasable information.
  12. ^ Did Nathan Phillips Falsely Claim He Was a Vietnam Veteran?, Snopes, Dan Evon, January 23, 2019
  13. ^ Scarborough, Rowan (January 24, 2019). "Nathan Phillips stayed in U.S. during Vietnam War and went AWOL 3 times, 'stolen valor' hunter finds". The Washington Times. Retrieved January 26, 2019.
  14. ^ Lamothe, Dan (January 23, 2018). "A group representing Nathan Phillips wrongly said he served in Vietnam. Then came the accusations". The Washington Post.
  15. ^ Vincent Schilling (5 December 2008). "American Indian veterans honored annually at Arlington National Cemetery". Indian Country Today. Retrieved 22 January 2019. Phillips also described coming back to the U.S. as a veteran of the Vietnam era. “People called me a baby killer and a hippie girl spit on me.” - (archive)
  16. ^ a b Mervosh, Sarah. "Boys in 'Make America Great Again' Hats Mob Native Elder at Indigenous Peoples March". The New York Times.
  17. ^ "Outcry after Kentucky students in Maga hats mock Native American veteran". The Guardian. January 20, 2019. Retrieved January 20, 2019.
  18. ^ 'The Latest: Police: About 20 fires set at Dakota Access camp', Associated Press February 23, 2017.
  19. ^ Jack Dura, 'Hundreds of Dakota Access protest cases remain open', Associated Press March 3, 2018.
  20. ^ Spencer, Dave (April 22, 2015). "Native American claims racial harassment by EMU students dressed as Indians". WJBK. Retrieved January 19, 2019.
  21. ^ a b Olivo, Antonio; Wootson Jr, Cleve R.; Heim, Joe (January 19, 2019). "Native American drummer speaks on the teens who surrounded him wearing MAGA hats". New Zealand Herald. The Washington Post. ISSN 1170-0777. Retrieved January 19, 2019.
  22. ^ a b Schilling, Vincent (January 19, 2019). "Outrage as non-Native youth wearing #MAGA hats taunt and disrespect Native elder". Indian Country Today. Retrieved January 19, 2019.
  23. ^ "Between Earth and Sky". Kickstarter. Retrieved January 20, 2019.
  24. ^ "Between Earth and Sky ‹ Maria Stanisheva's portfolio & blog". Retrieved January 20, 2019.
  25. ^ "Between Earth and Sky". Winter Film Awards. 20 March 2013. Retrieved January 20, 2019.
  26. ^ Between Earth and Sky. IMDb. October 20, 2012. Event occurs at 22 minutes. Retrieved January 19, 2019. Maria Stanisheva (Director/Writer) Starring Nathan Phillips and Shoshana Phillips with music by Nathan Phillips.
  27. ^ Make It Bun Dem. May 1, 2012. Retrieved January 19, 2019.
  28. ^ Marco Frucht (Director) (February 20, 2017). Nate Phillips Gives Skrillex A Shoutout From the DAPL protests. Event occurs at 83 seconds. Retrieved January 19, 2019.
  29. ^ "Haaland condemns students' behavior toward Native elder at Indigenous Peoples March". The Hill. January 18, 2019. Retrieved January 19, 2019.
  30. ^ a b Londberg, Max (January 19, 2019). "School faces backlash after incident at Indigenous Peoples March". Cincinnati Enquirer. Retrieved January 19, 2019.
  31. ^ "Local high school 'looking into' incident at march in D.C." WCPO. January 19, 2019. Retrieved January 19, 2019.
  32. ^ a b c "A tribal elder and a high school junior stood face to face, and the world reacted". The Washington Post. 2019.
  33. ^ a b c d Chamberlain, Samuel (January 20, 2019). "Kentucky student seen in viral confrontation with Native American speaks out". Fox News. Retrieved January 21, 2019.
  34. ^ "Covington Catholic students react to incident involving Native Americans in D.C." WKRC Cincinnati News. Park Hills, Kentucky. January 20, 2019. Retrieved January 21, 2019.
  35. ^ Brookbank, Sarah (January 20, 2019). "Longer video shows start of Covington Catholic incident at Indigenous Peoples March". Cincinnati Enquirer. Retrieved January 21, 2019.
  36. ^ Gallucci, Nicole (January 18, 2019). "Teens in MAGA hats sparked outrage after crashing the Indigenous Peoples March". Mashable. Retrieved January 19, 2019.
  37. ^ Niraj Warikoo (24 January 2019). "Native American leader of Michigan: 'Mob mentality' in students was 'scary'". Detroit Free Press. Retrieved 30 January 2019. "There was that moment when I realized I've put myself between beast and prey," Phillips said. "These young men were beastly and these old black individuals was their prey,
  38. ^ Flanagan, Caitlin (January 23, 2019). "The Media Botched the Covington Catholic Story". The Atlantic. Retrieved January 25, 2019.

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