Nathan Phillips Rejects Nick Sandmann's Offer ... This is Bigger Than Us

1/23/2019 1:02 PM PST

Nathan Phillips Turns Down Chat with Nick Sandmann, Wants Bigger Discussion

EXCLUSIVE

Nathan Phillips doesn't feel the need to sit down and hash things out with Nick Sandmann about their Lincoln Memorial face-off -- instead, he'd prefer a MUCH bigger conversation take place.

Nathan was on "TMZ Live" Wednesday, responding to the Catholic high school student's "Today" interview ... where he said he wanted a sit down with Nathan. Doesn't sound like it's gonna happen though, because Nathan made it clear the issues go beyond them now.

Phillips believes his incident with Sandmann -- which has sparked debate, outrage and lots of hand-wringing -- has elevated to such a level of importance that it should be handled by the 2 major groups represented ... the Catholic church and the indigenous people.

As for President Trump siding with the kids from Covington Catholic, Nathan seems to have mixed feelings and went with the ol' "If you can't say something nice" adage.

As we reported ... Sandmann was interviewed by Savannah Guthrie and claims his infamous smirking wasn't meant to be disrespectful to Phillips -- it was simply his way of containing the situation.

Sandmann also refused to offer an apology for his actions, but did express regret for not walking away from the confrontation ... and said he'd be willing to chat with Phillips about it.

The elder thinks they have bigger fish to fry, though.