NIKE N7 Sport Summit Proves a Catalyst for Native Leaders, Athletes to ‘Define Tomorrow’
BEAVERTON, Ore.—Nike N7 has transformed into a movement for positive change by more than 350 Indian country movers and shakers who swelled NIKE World Headquarters for the April 18-20 2013 N7 Sport Summit.
They share N7’s belief that sport has the power to transform.
Sparked by visionary Sam McCracken (Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux), N7 began with the 2007 N7 Air Native performance shoe designed for the wider Native foot, still provided at low cost to urban Indian and tribal programs. Nike rolled out the N7 retail line in 2009, whose proceeds to tribal communities and programs through the N7 Fund now exceed $2 million.
The Summit, hosted by the N7 Fund and Native Wellness Institute, opened with a welcome from McCracken, Nike N7 general manager, and chair of the N7 Fund, blessings by Onondaga Chief Oren Lyons, presentation of the flags by Warm Springs American Legion Post 48, and traditional songs and dance by the Warm Springs Tribes’ N’chi Wanapum Canoe Family.
Keynote speaker Charles Galbraith (Navajo), associate director of the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs the White House, concluded his remarks by introducing Michelle Obama by video.
The First Lady shared Galbraith’s enthusiasm for N7 athletes and leaders who inspire sports, play and fitness for Native youth, and talked about the ambitious goals of Let’s Move! in Indian Country, a comprehensive initiative dedicated to solving the problem of obesity within a generation.
The Summit served too as a platform to parlay N7 momentum into positive changes for Native children, adults, Elders and the disabled.
“People realize N7 is a powerful tool to maximize the next generation,” says McCracken, “They’re taking their Nike inspiration and innovating here to take that back to their communities.”
An oversized sign in the main rotunda, ‘How will you leave a footprint in the next 365 days?’ soon filled with handwritten responses. “I’ll start a new community garden.” “I’ll organize a sports camp.”
Summit co-host Native Wellness Institute executive director Jilleen Joseph (Gros Ventre) says, “We bring the emotional, spiritual and mental to their physical.” The N7 Fund grantee is all about helping people heal, in turn improving tribal communities. Joseph says Nike is one of the few large corporations giving to Indian country. “We support that.”
They use culture-based programming to create a sense of identity, which contributes to a sense of belonging, which contributes to a sense of purpose, which contributes to a positive vision for people. “When young people have that, it prevents suicide, violence, substance abuse, drop outs, all social ills,” Joseph says.
Native athletes appreciate their role as N7 Ambassadors for its opportunity to give back. Take new Ambassador Ben Strong (Red Lake Ojibwe Nation), center for the Iowa Energy and pro basketball player for five years. Off-season he’s held nine annual Big Bens basketball camps for Red Lake youth.
“I see the struggles on the reservation,” says Strong. “The kids needed someone from within the community to look up to, someone with aspirations, doing things with their lives in a positive way.”
McCracken shared Strong’s vision on a much larger scale. “That’s just the culture, to give back,” says Strong. He met people at the Summit who want him to do camps on their reservations. “People with the same vision, to connect, share ideas, brainstorm ideas, and grow opportunities for tribal communities.”
Ambassador Tahnee Robinson (Northern Cheyenne) is the first Native American drafted into the WNBA. As Robinson headed for basketball stardom an unplanned pregnancy meant dropping out of college. After the birth of her son Julius in 2007, she returned to the University of Nevada in Reno. In college and since she’s traveled to reservations to speak to children about her experiences.
“I know a lot of teen mothers, kids that don’t have the same support I do,” Robinson says. “My story gives back. I have basketball camp in my [Annual Tahnee Robinson Rez Ball Camp]; I participate in other camps. Nike N7 gave me a platform to reach a bigger audience.”
Temryss Lane (Lummi), transitioned her soccer skills into a full college scholarship, a pro player, then a TV personality. One of the biggest problems in Indian country, Lane says, “is there isn’t an expectation ‘you’re going to college.’ I recognize that it is my duty to turn around and share that success with our young people. That’s why I’m an N7 Ambassador.”
When McCracken told Ambassador Alvina Begay (Navajo), about N7, she said she “loved the idea.”
Running is Begay’s passion. “I knew I wanted to give back to the sport because it had done so much for me. [I’m] running through N7 and Sam’s support, so I’m still able to give back. Being a role model to Native people of all ages to get moving, be an inspiration as a Native woman.”
McCracken says Ambassador and snowboarder Spencer O’Brien is going to be a gold medalist at the SOCHI 2014 Winter Olympics. O’Brien (Kwak’waka’wakw Nation, Vancouver Island, B.C., Canada), learned to ski at 3, snowboard at 11. Today she’s on the Nike snowboarding team.
“I’d been looking to give back … inspire other people to go after their dreams. Just being at this Summit I’ve already made plans to speak to other tribal communities,” O’Brien says.
Golfer Notah Begay III (Navajo/Pueblo), founder of the N7 Fund grantee NB3 Foundation, and new Ambassador says “We’ve got world class athletes stepping up to become ambassadors for a small division of Nike.”
The NB3 Foundation partnered with N7 to participate in the “unique [N7 Fund] that really provides opportunities for tribal communities around the country in providing our youth access to sport. Both organizations have benefits from the work of the other.”
Begay says the whole model is unique: “A for-profit business model that generates proceeds for non-profit ventures. We’re able to use the premium brand Nike the past four years that can have a profound effect on lifestyles and well-being of our youth.” As Begay left, a crowd awaited, hoping for their photo with him. He put his arm around each one.
“This isn’t just about shoes, it’s about a movement,” says NB3 Foundation executive director Crystal Echo Hawk. The N7 Fund has allowed expansion of their work in tribal communities. “These resources are really scarce in these communities.”
“Games, we sure know how to play them,” says Chief Oren Lyons (Seneca Iroquois), a former Lacrosse athletic great. He spoke to the significance of the 7 in N7. It comes from the Haudenosaunee Six Councils in 930AD, he says. “When you sit down and counsel for the People, think not of yourself, your family or communities, think for the Seventh Generation.”
The SWOOSH culture led Ernie Stevens Jr. to tattoo a SWOOSH on his calf in his 30s. Stevens (Oneida), National Indian Gaming Association chair and N7 Fund board member, says Nike made the best basketball shoes, and hiked his pants leg to show his tattoo to ICTMN.
Stevens knows the power sports have to keep Native youth headed in the right direction. When his coach told him, ‘no more basketball unless you get back in school,’ it pushed him to a GED and college, “where I could learn I was smart.”
N7 Fund board member Tex Hall, chairman of the Three Affiliated Tribes, says Indian country needs a movement to overcome diabetes and obesity. “Even heavy kids can wear Nikes and know what Nike says, ‘If you’ve got a body you’re an athlete.’ We’ve got scholarships, tournaments, and now we’re getting our kids into professional sports.”
Richelle Williams (Coast Salish Cowichan Tribes) a Motivate Canada GEN7 Messenger explains GEN7 is a national aboriginal role model program. “I take the environment of N7 Summit and compelling spirit of its influence back to our communities. In May 2012 I brought Alvina Begay on a GEN7 community visit.”
N7 is not the answer, “but it can be part of the solution,” says McCracken. “I see the Summit brings energy. Energy is always positive. People are smiling. You can’t put a dollar amount on smiling.”
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