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

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. 


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."


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? 

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
Twitter: @BigIndianGyasi



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Phyllis Grant 's picture
Phyllis Grant
Submitted by Phyllis Grant on
I couldn't agree more!!! PS Tell Randy, that Nephler raid your article.

Mary L. Lukin's picture
Mary L. Lukin
Submitted by Mary L. Lukin on
Flashback to earlier Native women basketballers: 1904 Fort Shaw Indian School Girls World Champion Basketball team. To learn more, check out the book: Playing for the World..., by Linda Peavy and Ursula Smith. My great-aunt, Belle Johnson, was the team's captain.

Randy Scott's picture
Randy Scott
Submitted by Randy Scott on
Right on, Gyasi. You words, insight and advice are good. Hope they don't fall on unlistening ears. I think that topics related to this is an issue that the business world calls - Succession Planning - is directly related. Training and supporting the next generation of leaders, teachers, artists, fish and water scientists, foresters and elected officials is a item our communities need to discuss and develop on local, state, regional and national levels. If we are going to be proud of and support the members of our communities that come into the spotlights, we need to enable more opportunity for that to happen. We need spotlights on so many issues in our communities. Let's begin the conversation that helps bring our youth into the positions so that they may not only be supported, but ready for the situations, difficulties and miracles we need in Indian Country.

Kevin Wilber's picture
Kevin Wilber
Submitted by Kevin Wilber on
You are so right on the money with this. We need to support all Natives, even when they are not from our tribe. The Schimmel girls are getting great press and this reflects not only on them, but on Native People has a Whole. I have followed Shoni since she was in High School and I know there are other Native Youth out there who can follow the footsteps of Shoni and Jude and excel in Major College Sports. " Not from our Tribe " is something we need to stop saying when it comes to OUR NATIVE PEOPLE. I have seen it in my own Business, Native Genes Apparel. Very few people will have a positive comment to say about us. I get a lot from my Tribe but from others, it is seldom seen. Keep it up Shoni and Jude and know you are making ALL Natives proud...

jeanne burgess's picture
jeanne burgess
Submitted by jeanne burgess on
so what you're saying is that you think we should feel bad for watching these girls and cheering them on because our tribe probably didn't make a donation to the wonderful project you are talking about - sorry, but I will be cheering for them because they are "real people" and our tribe gives as they see fit and we the people don't have a say so in it. Our high school girls team did great making it to the final 3 in our state and had NC sport media's support and giving them credit for the great job they were doing - but, we don't think all of our tribal leaders were there to cheer them on. So, I hope these young native ladies and her family will focus on the game and know that natives all over are supporting them (no matter what our leaders did or didn't do) ᏕᎾᏓᎦᎰᏳ

Yeah Right!!!'s picture
Yeah Right!!!
Submitted by Yeah Right!!! on
If TLC had anything to do with it, the film would have been made. Quit making stuff up! "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."

Eva Rowan's picture
Eva Rowan
Submitted by Eva Rowan on
Love the honesty. We have to always support one another; business wise and cultural wise. No matter where we come from... They have my support alll the way from Prince of Wales, Alaska. Gunalcheesh for your words! I hope we all can support each other more and create more paths for our children to take.

Lucretia Lovato
Submitted by Lucretia Lovato on
I pointed that out here at Haskell, an all Indian school, there is more support for those two girls now, which I think is awesome for them. But they do not even support our girls basketball team. But I only saw all this support for these ladies after they got as far as they have gotten. My problem is if Haskell Women's team made it farther then all of a sudden they become "Haskell Women's Basketball" fans. But until then they make jokes. I bleed Purple and Gold through and through. Indians need to stop jumping on trends and have true loyalty.

Anonymous's picture
Submitted by Anonymous on
I'm with you on that. Natives should help any native wanting to make it big. We should all be proud because they are Native they represent all Native People Go for those girls my sincere prayers and good fortunate and I pray they will make it big. My granddaughter is the one that first introduced me to the sister by telling me that Louisville had two Indian as she said playing basketball and Grandma they are real good. You should watch them, I plan to watch them now that I know we have Native representation Go, Louisville make Indian Nation Proud.

Blue's picture
Submitted by Blue on
It's even sadder when ethnicity and putting the weight of the world of two girls who play sport well are used as examples in bullshit life coaching. It's a game, their good at it, so quit trying to make more of it than it is.

Beverly Van Horn's picture
Beverly Van Horn
Submitted by Beverly Van Horn on
I agree with you. I moved recently to Washington state, and thought I could connect with the Native people here. Why is it so hard to be friendly to one another? So what if my tribe is not the same as yours, we are part of a unique group of people that need to help and support one another.

Anonymous's picture
Submitted by Anonymous on
That was the first mistake. Tribal funding is becoming non existant for its own members. For example, I can not and will not get approved for any funds through my tribe because i dont live on "Tribal Land." It's almost a joke to even depend on the Tribe. They say go to council meetings but why? I tell you, because I would have to drive 1 1/2 hours to get there and discuss issues of which I cannot be a apart because I don't live on "Tribal Land." Why dont I live on tribal land? I tell you, because there are no job opportunities that are willing to pay what I make living in a Metro city. In conclusion, your first thought was to ask the community like the native churches or do fundraisers like indian taco sales or wild onion dinners or sell meatpies, word of mouth is always the way to get the word out. If you don't believe me, just give it a try next time one our youth needs support. Maybe this will be a wake-up call to tribal supporters.

June Mustari's picture
June Mustari
Submitted by June Mustari on
Yes, all the Natives are now on the bandwagon. Rightly so, as these 2 girls are doing something to be proud of. I came across Shoni and her family's story when she was on the rez, still in high school, and I have kept my vigil with her since then. When she signed with Louisville, I watched every game that showed on TV, tho rarely. But she is an inspiration, and now for Jude. They're both adorable, as is their entire family. Native Proud.

sj's picture
Submitted by sj on
to be fair Natives all over...and frankly being in the southwest I never heard of these gals until they upset both baylor and tenn.

sj's picture
Submitted by sj on
to be fair Natives all over...and frankly being in the southwest I never heard of these gals until they upset both baylor and tenn.

Charlotte Teehee's picture
Charlotte Teehee
Submitted by Charlotte Teehee on
Great article,I agree 100% and so glad you've pointed this problem out. We complain about not getting the attention we deserve from the public yet we don't support our own hard working people who have aspirations and dreams.

greta cosby's picture
greta cosby
Submitted by greta cosby on
Success among young native women is something to be celebrated by all citizens of every race in the USA. Thanks for this important history lesson.

Delores Twohatchet's picture
Delores Twohatchet
Submitted by Delores Twohatchet on
Thanks for a great insightful article! My son was accepted for enrollment at the prestigious British Film Institute in England. We wrote to a national Indian scholarship funding program for help and were told that they don't fund out of the country students. I asked how many of these type Indian students have been accepted in universities out of the US. They replied, "None".He graduated from Oklahoma University in Film & Videography and was a Van Lier Fellow and studied in NYC and later rec'd a ABC/Disney Fellowship grant. He is a struggling film artist who loves doing documentaries. But it is a "feast or famine" vocation! Thank you for your words!

Linda Juneau's picture
Linda Juneau
Submitted by Linda Juneau on
Wow, so true. Had the same thing happen when trying to do fundraising for UM Native American Studies Building; as did Elouise when trying to raise funds for legal defense in the trust case. Yet, our tribe will promote and fund a non-Indian cowboy to go to the NFR with thousands of dollars. Same thing when our unenrolled descendants do something extraordinary, they are Indian all the way, till it comes time to enroll them with equal rights.

Conrad B Lewis's picture
Conrad B Lewis
Submitted by Conrad B Lewis on
Amazing, Gyasi Ross thank you so much for posting this story. Regrettably i have witnessed and heard of other instances similar to what you have brought forward (not just pertaining to the great sport of basketball but other fields of achievements as well). We must support all whom are on the road to great achievements and success. We must be with them, supporting them every step of the way, on that road. Simply waiting at the finish has never worked. We become strong as "A People" and we become strong when we make concerted efforts of looking for any, and all, ways of supporting "OUR PEOPLE" each and every step of the way. We must stop using excuses not to support them for we are ALL Syt gulum goot (of one heart). Take care all

David Pecos's picture
David Pecos
Submitted by David Pecos on
I could and do agree with you that as natives we need to back each other up no matter what tribe, but I am also interested where they are from as there are hundreds of actual tribes in the US. For me that was one of the first questions I asked myself, which tribe are they from?

Glen Douglas's picture
Glen Douglas
Submitted by Glen Douglas on
Absolutely push and support all these young stars to the top it will only serve to bring everyone up. Who cares where they are from they're native!!!!!!!! Get it

Pepe's picture
Submitted by Pepe on
"Aho" I love to see this just as i love to seen Mexican American athletes succeed along with other Latin cultures in sports, I am of Yaqui with Spanish lineage I played college b-ball in Montana Frontier league Conference. I came out from Cali and joined a team that wasnt diverse at all to what i was accustomed here in California, till my brown brother from Browning, Mt walked in we looked at eachother and just laughed instant chemistry. I heard some great and sad stories about Rez ball, as i see it and he does now we both come from a great people but a very jealous and sometimes racially divided even as natives we do this to our own, we must break away from these ties so that we may grow as a people so there can be more Schimmels representing