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Native American elder and Covington Catholic teen say they are willing to talk

Posted at 6:58 PM, Jan 22, 2019
and last updated 2019-01-22 19:22:51-05

Omaha Nation elder Nathan Phillips is offering to travel to Covington Catholic High School in Kentucky to talk about the importance of respecting diverse cultures, according to a statement from the Lakota People’s Law Project.

Video of an encounter between Phillips and Covington Catholic students at Washington’s Lincoln Memorial on Friday has stirred debate for several days.

Phillips was there for the Indigenous Peoples March and the students were there for the March for Life rally.

Phillips, the Indigenous Peoples March and the Lakota group are trying to set up meetings with the students, members of the community and church officials, the statement said.

In an interview to air Wednesday on NBC’s “Today” show, a student in the video, Nick Sandmann, indicated he’s open to speaking to Phillips.

“My position is that I was not disrespectful to Mr. Phillips,” Sandmann said. “I respect him, I’d like to talk to him.”

Sandmann previously denied negative characterizations of his behavior and the behavior of his classmates.

“In hindsight, I wish we could have walked away and avoided the whole thing.”

School closed

The school was closed Tuesday because of “threats of violence and the possibility of large crowds” at a planned protest at the school, the Diocese of Covington and Covington Catholic High School said in a statement.

The school will reopen when law enforcement says it is safe to do so, the statement said.

The diocese and school also reiterated that an “independent, third-party investigation” will begin looking into the incident this week.

“This is a very serious matter that has already permanently altered the lives of many people. It is important for us to gather the facts that will allow us to determine what corrective actions, if any, are appropriate,” the statement said.

Phillips said he decided to step in when he saw an escalating situation between the students and another group, leading to the face-off with one student.

A second video surfaced Sunday showing another group, which identifies itself as members of the Hebrew Israelites, taunting students with disparaging and vulgar language before the encounter with Phillips.

On Monday, Kenton County Commonwealth’s Attorney Rob Sanders said officials at Covington Catholic High School in Park Hills met with local law enforcement to come up with a plan to ensure student safety.

Sanders said the move came after threats against the school and some students in the wake of the incident.

“After meeting with local authorities, we have made the decision to cancel school and be closed on Tuesday, January 22, in order to ensure the safety of our students, faculty and staff,” says a letter from school principal Robert Rowe that was posted on CNN affiliate WKRC‘s website.

“All activities on campus will be canceled for the entire day and evening. Students, parents, faculty and staff are not to be on campus for any reason. Please continue to keep the Covington Catholic Community in your prayers,” Rowe wrote.

Other schools in the area were also closed, but due to inclement weather. Covington Catholic also appeared on WKRC’s school closure list, but the weather was not mentioned in the principal’s statement.

Peace vigil a ‘call for an end to racism’

The American Indian Movement Chapter of Indiana and Kentucky held a “peace vigil to call for an end to racism” on Tuesday morning at the Diocese of Covington.

“We are here to have a dialogue with the diocese, asking them to hold those chaperones accountable,” Thomas Pearce, the group’s co-chair, told CNN at the vigil. “That should have never happened in D.C. If the chaperones were doing their jobs, that wouldn’t have (ever) happened.”

Pearce said the diocese has not responded to the group’s request to meet. CNN has reached out to the diocese and has not heard back.

Guy Jones of the Hunkpapa Lakota from the Standing Rock Reservation in South Dakota said the main goal is education.

“We fix stuff by sitting down and talking to one another and working for a common goal,” said Jones, who lives in Dayton, Ohio, and is part of the Greater Cincinnati Native American Coalition.

“That’s what we’re looking for. Let’s find that common ground that we can all work together and make something better.”