This time of the year is special in the eyes of many Skins. No, it’s not because of the Shamrock Shakes at McDonald's for St. Patrick’s Day or because of our historic love for daffodils. Instead, the beginning of March is special because it signifies state tournaments for boys and girls high school basketball teams across Indian Country—loads of moms, dads, baby’s mamas, grannies, cousins, aunties and uncles piling into Ford LTDs and Chevy Novas to root young Indian men and women on.
It’s quite a spectacle.
The basketball teams in many of our reservation towns are some of the crowning jewels of our people. We literally pile in—convoy—60, 70 cars in a row to go to the larger cities, armed with good medicine, some Shasta pop and a ring of red and a loaf of bread. We go to watch these beautiful Native kids—some with braids tucked into the backs of their jerseys, most with shaved heads and closed-cropped haircuts—and see a glimpse into the future that they can have, with hard work, dedication and prayer.
Indian boys and girls can go to state and can compete and even beat the larger white/black/Latino schools if they work hard as a team. They can accomplish anythingif they really want to—Indian men and women competing in spite of racism, in spite of historical trauma, in spite of a history of genocide, alcoholism, and abuse.
We can rise above, like the all of Pueblos putting differences aside in 1680; we are not beholden to the past and we are stronger unified than divided. Our future is bright, because these young warriors—utilizing the basketball court as a powerful metaphor—work together, find strength from each other, and overcome.
At some level, it’s just basketball, it’s just a game. At some level, basketball is not the most important thing in the world and, whether the Skin team wins or loses, life goes on. And it does goes on.
Still, it’s more than that. If we are to take the words of Native philosopher John Mohawk seriously, that “cultures are learned means of survival in an environment,” than we know that basketball is more than that. Anybody who has come to watch the Browning Indians, the White Swan Cougars, the Red Cloud Crusaders, the Rocky Boy Northern Stars, the Shiprock Chieftains, the Zuni Thunderbirds, the Wyoming Indian High Chiefs or any of the many incredible Indian high school basketball teams knows that it’s more than that.
By the way, congratulations to the Wyoming Indian High Chiefs ("Class 2A Boys championship: Wyoming Indian rallies to defeat Lovell for title")—feels good to be champs, ennit? Congratulations, little brothers.
But I digress.
The point is that basketball has become a necessary and relevant piece of Native culture. Granted, it’s a new piece of our culture, but it is there—like most pieces of our culture—dedicated to our children’s survival. They need basketball. Or maybe they don’t need basketball necessarily, but we’ve had a hard time finding out exactly what Indian kids need in the 21st century (and indeed people from all cultures seem to be having a difficult time finding out what their children need nowadays). Until we find out what those needs are to reinvigorate Indian children’s sense of purpose, basketball will have to do.
And so we’ll continue to convoy…Indian fans on one side, white fans on the other, both cheering on the beautiful spectacle and modern day warfare performed by our modern day Native and non-Native warriors, our hopes for the future in basketball shorts and high tops, part of our new cultural regalia.
Please give all of our little brothers and sisters a round of applause.
Hulkshare: "Basketball Mixed.mp3"
Gyasi Ross is a member of the Blackfeet Nation and his family also belongs to the Suquamish Nation. He wrote a book called “Don’t Know Much About Indians (but i wrote a book about us anyways)” which you can get at www.dkmai.com. He is also co-authoring a new book with Robert Chanate coming out in the Summer of 2012 appropriately called “The Thing About Skins,” and the website and publishing company for that handy, dandy book is www.cutbankcreekpress.com (coming soon). He also semi-does the twitter thing at twitter.com/BigIndianGyasi