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AP/Alonzo Adams
Louisville's guard Shoni Schimmel, center, reacts to her shot over Baylor's Brittney Griner, left, as Louisville's Sheronne Vails, right, stands by during the second half of a regional semifinal in the women's NCAA college basketball tournament in Oklahoma City, Sunday, March 31, 2013. Louisville won 82-81. (AP Photo/Alonzo Adams)

Reality Check, Schimmel Sisters, and the Final Four: Why We Gotta Love and Support Our Own People Better

Gyasi Ross
4/3/13

I was excited watching the women’s NCAA tournament the past couple of days.

I don’t think that I was alone—in fact, I think that every single Native in North America was equally as excited as me.  Here we had two beautiful young Native sisters, Shoni and Jude Schimmel, playing a key role in a HUGE upset victory over the seemingly unbeatable Baylor and the powerful, 6’8” giant Brittney Griner.  If that wasn’t enough, last night, they clinched a spot in the Final Four with the sisters playing incredibly. 

It was a beautiful site.  Native people seemed to be singing in unison, like those old Coke commercials, “I’d like to teach the world to sing…in perfect harmony…”  

Native unity—coming together as a people. 

Right?

Well, not really.

See, let me explain.  I remember a couple of years ago, a good friend of mine, knowing that I’m a decent lawyer, referred Shoni Schimmel’s family to me.  There was this really amazing opportunity for a feature length show highlighting Shoni on TLC (I think it was TLC, but it was one of the better cable networks).  Anyway, there were some private investors raising money for the film, which would have highlighted a wonderful and loving Native family who teach their children to work hard and follow their dreams.  The Schimmel family wanted someone to review the contract, understandably, to make sure that the girls and the family generally were not being taken advantage of.  Being a basketball fan and also a pretty mediocre businessman, I said “Of course, I’ll do whatever you need for free.”

Shoni Schimmel

I reviewed it.  We discussed the terms in it—all was well.  I made my tiny contribution to the project and I figured the film was well on its way to being an Oscar nominee.  It was a great story: Native girl from the Rez makes it to the big time, overcoming countless obstacles, because of her loving family’s support. 

Unfortunately, it didn’t happen like that.  Why?

Well, the project died on the vine because of a lack of money.  The investors went to MANY, MANY Tribal councils asking for contributions.  “Anything will help,” they said.  It wasn’t a particularly big-budget project—much less than many Tribes give to local law enforcement or to any particular parade.  But not for this Native basketball prodigy.  For her, barely any support.  The reason?  “She’s not from our Tribe.  Obviously she’s a good player, but why should we help with HER project? What do my tribal members get out of it? They want us to invest in our own tribal members."

Seriously. 

Now, I take all of the people putting the image of Shoni screaming at Brittney Griner after her AMAZING shot with a grain of salt…yeah, it sounds good to support them now and we should absolutely support them now.  But know they’re a proven commodity and are both destined for the WNBA-it doesn’t take too much faith to support them now. But what about when their family had no resources and was unknown a few years ago? 

Jude Schimmel

The larger point: we have to invest in Native people when they need it, not just when it’s convenient and easy.  We cannot just be fair-weather supporters when they’ve already made it.  It’s really easy to “claim” our most successful people after they’re getting accolades from the larger world, but we should be the first cheering section for Native outliers, for the ones trying to become tomorrow’s role models for Native youth. We’ve got to, Tribal citizens and elected officials alike, shoulder some of the responsibility of developing this Native talent if we want to bask in their glory when they win.  

We’ve gotta do better at supporting and loving our own people.  We could have 30 Shonis and 50 Judes and 100 Adam Beaches and Jacoby Ellsburys, if we created the infrastructure and support systems for that to happen.  Forget which Tribe they’re from anymore—nobody cares (nor should they!!) which Tribe Shoni and Jude are from now.  Nobody cares what Tribe Adam is; nobody cares which Tribe Jacoby is.  We love them because they’re Native.  And that’s how we should support our hard-working and talented Natives before they get their big break too. 

For the next few months, I’m going to be highlighting some Natives in business, arts, entertainment and sports and pleading with you all to lend support, spiritual, and yes MONETARY to these ambitious Natives.  Tribal casinos and Native organizations give TONS of money for washed-up athletes and celebs with tax problems to show up at their casinos and conferences…and oddly, nobody cares which Tribe the washed-up athletes or celebs with tax problems are.  Nobody asks—they just take them at their word when they smile a rehearsed smile and say that they have some distant and remote Native ancestry. 

And the Tribal casino/Native organization promptly writes a big check for them. That’s cool—business is business.  We also have to develop our enterprises.  

…But can’t we even commit half of those resources to the development of tomorrow’s Native heroes?

Gyasi Ross
Blackfeet Nation Enrolled/Suquamish Nation Immersed
Activist/Attorney/Author
Twitter: @BigIndianGyasi
www.cutbankcreekpress.com

 

 

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Mojo Hand's picture
Mojo Hand
Submitted by Mojo Hand on
The problem exists in the Asian community as well. One of the things Asian Americans, much like many other minority groups, fight against are the horrible Hollywood images that perpetuate stereotypes. So when Asian American film makers try to produce work that shows Asians in a more realistic and multi-dimensional view than what the mainstream does, do you think a lot of AA's get behind it? Do they support it? Very little. It's important to control your OWN images and not let Hollywood define you. But if AA's don't get out and show up to attend movies or documentaries by and about AA's, then Hollywood says, "See? Nobody wants to see stories about Asians. Why should we cast you in anything but kung fu roles, or gangsters, or prostitutes?" And sadly, the folks in the Native community seem to have similar problems in ginning up support. To me, it doesn't matter that so and so is Japanese, or she's Korean, or that one is Chinese. A positive depiction, media image of an Asian American is a positive depiction...who cares what kind of Asian? Support your community! Control your images! We all have to fight to define ourselves and push back against those who would define who we are FOR us.

Lita Pepion's picture
Lita Pepion
Submitted by Lita Pepion on
Nice article Gyasi. Wouldn't it be nice if Tribes actually supported even their own members - by helping with education, modeling good choices and leadership and providing services and assistance based on need, not personal relationships? I anxiously await a time when they do that - and will do all that I can to help.

Sonny Skyhawk's picture
Sonny Skyhawk
Submitted by Sonny Skyhawk on
Again , my young friend, you tell it like it is and should be. It has been brought to my attention in the past, that some gaming tribes would rather give money and support to non- Indians, rather than even their own or other tribes. That in and of itself is a travesty, because if we don't, who will, and if I remember correctly, it was not too many years ago, that we did not have the successful establishments that we have today. I can remember when some of the tribes who now covet the "not from my tribe" attitude, had no running water or sewage treatment plants or health clinics, but depended on other tribes for help and assistance, now that it is in reverse, they are not there. That is not the Indian way. We need to support our young people, irregardless of tribe when it is called for, most of us do, but we need to re-think where we came from and where we need to go. Just saying. SS

Jayron D. Robinson's picture
Jayron D. Robinson
Submitted by Jayron D. Robinson on
This is an excellent article and brings forward the fact that in order for ALL Native People to be unified under one banner they MUST support each other in every way - there can be no 'Me' in unification - it must be 'US'. I love the picture of 'getting in her face' - wow, powerful. Really happy they won. Was hoping and praying they would.

Angie Mahkee's picture
Angie Mahkee
Submitted by Angie Mahkee on
Thank you for mentioning that you'll be featuring accomplished Native people in varied disciplines- I hope you will consider adding those people making their mark in academic, medical and science fields as well. It's great to "make it big", but we also need to respect and honor those of us who work just as hard and achieve great things behind the scenes in disciplines and in fields that don't lend themselves to public accolades and recognition. We have many heroes among us, it's time to recognize the wealth of knowledge and talent as as united Native people.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
I'm sure private donations would make better profit than going to tribal councils. Word of mouth spreads rapidly w/ facebook and twitter these days. I regularly contribute to charity, both to native and other American organizations who need it. Why not try that?

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
Well said! They both grew up on the Umatilla reservation. I am an enrolled Umatilla/Cayuse native and can totally relate to the treatment they receive here from our so-called "Tribal Government Leaders". That's the way it is on the reservation. Only the select elite get the royal treatment. It's unfortunate they didn't support them. They are enrolled Yakama, but their home was in Mission, Oregon for many years. Too bad our Tribal Government/(Membership included) can't all be supportive of these awesome ball players, but we live in a bucket of crabs. Lot's of jealousy and power trips. They forget about their entire Tribe when/if they find success. I'm really proud of the Schimmel sisters and hope we can have more and more natives find the success they have. Our ancestors wanted all of us to be successful survivors, not just a select few. The leadership today is too caught up in their selfishness to think for an entire Tribe!

Cami ElShoura's picture
Cami ElShoura
Submitted by Cami ElShoura on
Well said! They both grew up on the Umatilla reservation. I am an enrolled Umatilla/Cayuse native and can totally relate to the treatment they receive here from our so-called "Tribal Government Leaders". That's the way it is on the reservation. Only the select elite get the royal treatment. It's unfortunate they didn't support them. They are enrolled Yakama, but their home was in Mission, Oregon for many years. Too bad our Tribal Government/(Membership included) can't all be supportive of these awesome ball players, but we live in a bucket of crabs. Lot's of jealousy and power trips. They forget about their entire Tribe when/if they find success. I'm really proud of the Schimmel sisters and hope we can have more and more natives find the success they have. Our ancestors wanted all of us to be successful survivors, not just a select few. The leadership today is too caught up in their selfishness to think for an entire Tribe!

Leona M. Mars's picture
Leona M. Mars
Submitted by Leona M. Mars on
You are so right. When a Native excels in an endeavor or pursue their dreams, they are climbing that mountain alone. It is when they are on the mountain top that everyone will try to stand on that mountain with them. We all should stand by them and encourage them, no matter what tribe we are from. After all, they are paving the way for all Native. They are the example to the ones trying to catch a star, too. They are saying it can be done. They are also doing all Native a favor because when a Native steps into the limelight, they bring all Native to the forefront. The world does not care what tribe we are from, they just see an "Indian."

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
wasn't her story told on espn ? thats some big support. these young ladies are amazing ballers. They can make it. Its ok to celebrate if they excel to greatness even if you didn't support them when they were finding their way. Thats how it is. You climb so that people will be able to finally see your greatness. People have to witness an act of greatness in order to believe and thats a good thing. Thats inspiring. No different then the old timers having to prove some great performance of powerful medicine in order to become apart of a ceremonial society. Stay humble natives. As far as the tribal councils not supporting well, thats another story. As far as the casinos not supporting, well get them white people out of there, HIRE more natives who can make the money flow in the direction of native support. Peace People

Scott Sands's picture
Scott Sands
Submitted by Scott Sands on
This is an excellent story, and one that is very true. With the sure stardom on the horizon for these two beautiful NORTH AMERICAN Originals- and the bandwagon that is sure to follow. We must be behind any of our peoples-whether or not they are this type of Nish or that type. This is the very reason we are in the pôsition we are in today-being attacked by the government left right and center-Our peoples were not united, when we should have been !

Andrea Alexander (Makah)'s picture
Andrea Alexande...
Submitted by Andrea Alexande... on
Excellent article and could not agree more with this observation. I see so many emerging, young native talent with NO opportunity for investment into their potential to advance their projects, ideas or community. But, we as natives need to develop thoughtful structures that can open up this investment process that will actually advance their issues, ideas and lead to long lasting movements. Progressive change takes time and we need to be in for the long haul. Let's find space and time to make this happen. Motivate our new Tribal leaders to come back to the principles of intertribal unity and overcome the divisions caused by new wealth, greed and just plain lack of respect for each other. How can we build on the values that our Tribal elders fought and died for...

Shannon Dawson's picture
Shannon Dawson
Submitted by Shannon Dawson on
I have been to over 100 diffarint resavations in the US,, an I can say from my personail expreance that "Amrecan NDNz" are amoung the most xnaphobic people you can meet! One of the 1st qustions I aways get when I go to NDN country is "What r you"and then "What tribe r you"..I have heard "You arnt from this tribe",,or Thaye cant do this or that cuse thare tribe is not from around here"!. Meny times this has upset me as Im a city raised NDN with family still on Tribel lands,, so I have to jest ignore this, even when it comes from elders. I try to jest belong ,, even if I dont.

Crystal from Arizona's picture
Crystal from Arizona
Submitted by Crystal from Arizona on
Well Said. Couldn't agree more. We are all Indigenious and should embrace the members that make a name for themselves to prove that it is possible to make it in world that is not easy for Natives to succeed it. More power to the youth to look up to individuals just like them...Shoni Schimmel, Jude Schimmel, Jacoby Ellsbury, Adam Beach, Alvina Begay...as well as Indian Rodeo Role Models Derrick Begay, Erich Rogers, Dustin Bird. All come from humble beginnings and have worked hard to get where they are. Lets root for them and support their dreams regardless of which tribe they are. Our youth look up to them as role models and that is AMAZING to hear a youngster say...I want to play like Shoni, I want to rope like Derrick, I wanna run like Alvina. It could and WILL happen for our Native Youth!

Kirsten Meyer's picture
Kirsten Meyer
Submitted by Kirsten Meyer on
Great article. Young people are our most precious resource. I had not heard of these girls but reading about them today is so inspiring. Even though tribes are easy targets now for handouts and the ones with money can't be expected to be responsible for everything, we have to also be accountable for actively cultivating a "culture" of supportiveness and lift our youth up rather than having a crab in a barrel or "us versus them" mentality, which unfortunately often happens. Oh, that girl wasn't raised on the rez. Oh, that girl isn't Indian enough. Oh, that girl isn't from my tribe. Let's lift each other up rather than cut each other down. We've all had enough sad stories, it's beautiful to see a Native do good.

Mike Calloway's picture
Mike Calloway
Submitted by Mike Calloway on
I'm not native American. I have studied the past and feel that the future is an open opportunity. All of us as American's should embrace the triumphs and challenges any individual faces and overcomes. I applaud Schimmel sisters!

aks's picture
aks
Submitted by aks on
I am in 100% agreement. We understand that there are unique and wonderful cultural distinctions between our tribes, but as a whole group of tribes we are far more powerful. We have an obligation to support each other for the sake of our children.

Barbara A. Deerinwater's picture
Barbara A. Deer...
Submitted by Barbara A. Deer... on
I agree with you whole heartedly. We should be more supportive of our native people, regardless of what tribe. I don't live in my tribal area, someday I may. But where I live I know quite a bit about their government, and I encourage natives to be a part of their tribe by voting for their Chief and also for the President or new Mayor. Just get out and support our native people. I watched that game and felt apart of the crowd even tho' I was not there, and to see the support they had. It would be great to see a movie about those basketball players.

Angie Blackwell's picture
Angie Blackwell
Submitted by Angie Blackwell on
Thank you for this and other articles you've written to highlight our responsibilities to one another. It's time, no, far beyond the time, for us to start standing up for one another instead of tearing each other down. I've heard the analogy several times, we are like a bucket full of crabs, jerking others down as we try to claw our way out. Like the crab, we might not even realize what we are doing but the repercussions are the same.

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