I had hoped that one day my son, Elias, would become a reporter. He was named after Elias Boudinot, the first Native journalist and editor of the Cherokee Phoenix in 1828. But that wasn’t his dream. It was mine. Still, there was a possibility (even if unlikely).
When Elias was in middle school we were at an event and a TV crew for Fox Sports Network handed him a microphone and told him to interview an athlete. He read the questions.
I was so excited; he was cool. The journalism bug did not bite.
Elias had a great sense of humor and he could “play” a reporter on TV, announcing a coming storm as a network storm chaser.
One day when I was on ESPN for an interview, Elias told me that was the first time he actually was interested in my work. Too funny.
I am writing this now because Elias died Memorial Day weekend. He was far too young, 26 years old. And, as part of my journey ahead, I have tried to read everything that his friends wrote about him on social media. I smile because they confirmed what I already know: Elias had a great sense of humor, he was a curious soul, and he loved his people.
He was also consumed by pro football. He knew everything there is to know about the Seattle Seahawks. I’d send him an article from time to time, news to me, and he’d respond with a detailed counter that expanded the theme far beyond any news story.
Elias took journalism courses while he was at the University of Idaho but it still wasn’t his thing. On campus, though, he found a passion for singing with a drum, the Vandal Nation.
He loved learning about Native American policy and issues. He read a lot, I’d get a text late at night asking me about some policy debate in Washington or in a tribal community.
He texted me pretty much every day. He was eager to travel again. He was only in 6th grade when he made his first trip to Europe via People to People. Most recently he was interested in traveling to Scotland to explore history and that side of his family story.
A couple of years ago I teased him about wearing a “Friday shirt.” When he was a kid he’d reserve one shirt, a favorite, for Friday-only wear. That would be the signal that the school week was over and the weekend was ahead. So a couple of years ago (maybe longer because the shirt is kinda worn down now) I sent him a picture of me wearing a Friday shirt. I told him it was my way to tell him I was thinking of him.
One of our last back and forth conversations was about journalism.
Elias had a new job that he liked, but he knew that was not his calling. He talked about going back to school. He told me he’d like to do something that involved history. That’s really the challenge for a young person: Finding a career, not just a job. Tapping into that passion that compels you to know more, to do more. Weight lifting could have been that, too. He loved to talk about what he was lifting and the discipline required. That’s what I wanted for him.
Still I made yet another pitch for journalism. I told him about a young man that was doing TikTok videos about football. “What if you did that about the ‘Hawks?” I asked. He agreed that it might be fun. (A lot of wishful thinking on my part.)
I am grateful for the hundreds of messages of condolence from so many wonderful people. Some knew Elias as a child. Others met Elias when he was a university student. A few remember him as the guy who promised to “clean up the rez' one bathroom at a time” (while working at the hotel). Most did not know Elias directly. But they reached out anyway because we all share so much hope for our people, our children, and our future.
This week I was told another story. One family’s condolence note said Elias influenced their son and he helped shape his career as a journalist, especially creating a framework for the coverage of Indigenous people. I was blown away by that note. Where did that come from?
Of course his friends had said amazing things, but now I see that the impact of Elias’ life on others is a story we may never fully know. And, even that, gives me more hope. I’d love one day to hear his version. I will be wearing my Friday shirt.