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Keith Harper, Shoni, Jude and Jackie: Supporting Native Trailblazers

Gyasi Ross on how Keith Harper and Shoni and Jude Schimmel are the Jackie Robinsons of Native people -- and why Natives should support them.
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TRUE STORY: The other day, my barely seven-year-old son told me, “Datchu (daddy), I want to be the first Native President.”

Sounds cool, right?

Some people think that this sounds like an “awww cute” daddy moment—like I’d be the proudest dad in the world. Not so. Instead, him saying that made me seriously question whether I was doing something wrong. See, I hate politics. I prefer that he not be involved in politics in any way because I think politics are slimy, disgusting, horrible white man conventions and I’d prefer if he avoided it like the plague.


My son, future President.

But I smiled. That’s my boy. I’m gonna be proud of him as long he truly and earnestly seeks to accomplish ANY of his goals. And IF he really wants to go into the cesspool that is politics…Go forward, my beautiful, brown-skinned, bushy-haired ridiculously Indigenous son. Be the best politician that you can be. I’m going to help you in any way I possibly can. He wants to make history and do something that NO other Native person has done and pave a road for future Natives to do it even better.

I’m your datchu (daddy). That’s my job—I want what’s best for him. It’s that simple.



Native Hawaiian actor Jason Momoa, star of Sundance TV's 'The Red Road.' Image courtesy Sundance TV.

Well, I’m really big on Native people doing stuff that Native people have never done before. Making history! To me, that’s part of loving Native people—to want better for Native people. I’m going to SUPPORT and CHEER for the first Native President, even though I hate politics!! I’ll SUPPORT and CHEER for the first Native Supreme Court Justice even though I completely distrust the justice system. I’ll SUPPORT and CHEER for the first Native NBA ballplayer even if he plays for the Oklahoma City Thunder. I love watching the Schimmel sisters doing something no other Natives have done before or how The Red Road is getting mainstream love (watch it and support Native art!).


Because 1) she or he is Native and 2) is trying to do something that will benefit ALL Native people. I LOVE when our people accomplish what others (or even WE) previously thought was impossible. We can go through the pained history of non-Natives believing that we were incompetent to do certain things. I will not be one of those people—I believe in my folks even if I’m not crazy about the final product (I can give you a LONG list of all the Native musicians, movies, etc that I support even though I’m not crazy about the final product—there’s a lot of bad stuff out there).

It’s important that we love and support each other. I will unconditionally love and support my son in his endeavors to become the first Native President and shame on me if I don’t -- shame on any Native people who don't -- support Natives when they try to make history.

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We should want what’s best for Native people. It’s that simple.

Which brings me to Keith Harper. Keith Harper is a member of the Cherokee Tribe who was nominated to be the FIRST Native person to be a Representative to the United Nations Human Rights Council.

What exactly does that mean? Honestly, I’m not too sure. But I DO know it’s a very important position at the United Nations. I DO know that it will allow a lot of folks to see how WELL Native people can do an important job. And most importantly, I DO know that no Native person has done it before.

That’s a big deal.

Ole Miss basketball player Marshall Henderson, Choctaw, led the SEC conference in scoring during the 2012-13 season. Photo: AP.

But honestly, I don’t really give a damn about the specifics of the job. Obviously somebody very powerful thinks that this Indian man, Keith Harper, is good enough at his job to offer him a very powerful position. Even more honestly, I don’t really give a damn about Keith Harper­—I’m a community dude, a Rez dude and prefer when Natives work within Indian Country and make a difference here. BUT…What I DO care about is Natives making history. I DO care about Natives making the impossible possible. I DO care about SMASHING those stereotypes that said that we weren’t smart enough to do certain jobs. And when it’s all said and done, I think that Keith Harper working in the UN is as important to Native people as my son will be when he’s elected President or as important as Marshall Henderson or Bronson Koenig will be when they are the first Natives playing in the NBA or Jude and Shoni Schimmel will be when they are the first Native sisters playing in the WNBA (of course, Navajo legend Reynaldi Becenti was the first Native to play in the WNBA).

That’s what I care about—history. Native people showing my son and ALL of our kids that “we got this.” History matters. Nobody knew that Black folks could play baseball in the major leagues until Jackie Robinson actually did it. Jackie Robinson was not perfect—he was a flawed man and a flawed baseball player. But he did it and made history and that was the beginning of Black folks actually being treated like human beings in this Country (and yes, there WERE Black folks who didn’t want Mr. Robinson to succeed—sometimes we all our own worst enemies).

The Lil' Native boy who cannot wait to jump in and swim with the political sharks.

Keith Harper is Jackie Robinson for Native people—there has NEVER been a Native who has played at this level of politics before. Period. That’s important and will benefit ALL Native people. Anybody who doesn’t see that is blind.

Will he make mistakes? Yes; just like Jackie Robinson did, just like any trailblazer does. Do we need him there anyway? Abso-freakin-lutely. My son needs him there. All of our kids need him there to show them that they can do this.

I know you all ride with me—I appreciate that. I ask you all for a favor. PLEASE contact your tribal leaders and ask them to call in, write in, do something to let your United States Senator that Native people NEED Keith Harper to occupy this incredibly important position within the UN. He needs us right now—a Native person needs our help to make history. And we need him to make that history.

It’s that simple.

Support Keith Harper. Support Native trailblazers. Call your Tribal leader.

The Lil' Native boy who cannot wait to jump in and swim with the political sharks.

Gyasi Ross
Blackfeet Nation/Suquamish Territories
New Book, "How to Say I Love You in Indian"—order today!!
Twitter: @BigIndianGyasi