Rodney Harwood
Shoni Schimmel walks through a crowd of children at Salish Kootenai College before speaking to more than 500 people.

Shoni Schimmel Visits Flathead Reservation; ‘Be Proud to be Native!’

Rodney Harwood
10/8/14

It started in polite silence, then slowly turned into a low rumble of anticipation, like a storm building on the horizon. The side door to the gym opened, and the reason more than 500 grandparents, parents, and children had traveled long and far was upon them.

They all stood up as Shoni Schimmel walked onto the basketball floor filled with more than 250 Native American children standing in awe. There was no loud applause, no shouting or clapping, just a surge of energy as she circled through the kids, hands extended, giving them a reason to believe as she made her way to the microphone at mid-court Sunday at Joe McDonald Health Center at Salish Kootenai College in Pablo, Montana.

Some say you should never meet your heroes because they never turn out to be who you think they are. But Schimmel has remained true to herself and to the people. She earned her bachelor’s degree in communications at Louisville, but she doesn’t just communicate with the people she meets, she connects.

“The message has always been to follow your dreams. I grew up on the rez. Being Native American is something to be proud of. It was my dream all along just to go out there and make it,” Shoni Schimmel told ICTMN. “The message has a lot to do with education, but it’s mostly about not letting people tell you you can’t do something. You can make a difference and work for your dreams whether they’re sports or art or whatever it is that you want to do with your life.”

Schimmel signs autographs (Rodney Harwood)

The Schimmel family has become one of the strongest voices in Indian Country. In fact, there were five generations present: Great grandmother Delores, 86; grandmother Sis Moses, 63; Parents Rick and Ceci (Moses) Schimmel; Shoni and Jude, and grandson Jalen. Sunday was Shoni’s first speaking engagement since she addressed the 2014 Nike N7 Sports Summit at the Nike World Headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon.

“We’re just a normal family. We love being Native American. We love our Indian people,” Schimmel said. “I don’t know if all this [attention] is what we signed on for, but we embrace it. I’d like to think I’m making a difference, especially over the past few years. Coming out of college and playing in the WNBA, I think more Native Americans are being noticed.”

The mere mention that Shoni Schimmel was coming to the Flathead reservation in southwest Montana generated a stir. On Sunday, against the backdrop of the Rocky Mountains, they held the gathering of nations basketball camp.

Glenda Teton, Shoshone-Bannock, didn’t think twice about making the 6 ½-hour drive from Pocatello, Idaho. “It’s really exciting to be able to meet Shoni Schimmel because she is a Native role model,” she said. “I brought my son because regardless of the gender, Shoni is part of our culture in the Native world. This was his first trip to another area, and I think it’s good for him to socialize with other children his age in the Native country.”

Marlina Blood was part of a group that traveled from the Kainai Blood Reserve in Alberta, Canada. “If we would have had more notice, we’d of brought busloads,” she said with a smile. “It’s really important for Native girls to have role models like Shoni and Jude Schimmel. They definitely represent Indian Country. A lot of the Native children really look up to them, and they represent all of us – the First Nation from Canada too.”

As the kids shot around waiting for the camp to begin, it was clear whose ball skills had influenced them most. Some put up nothing but 23-footers, trying to find that stroke for knocking down 3-pointers. Others were trying their hand at twisting, reverse lay-ups made famous by the Schimmel sisters.

“Just getting to be here and having the chance to meet Shoni is really exciting,” said Kiara Blood, who made the trip from Canada. “It’s neat to be here with all these different nations. You can basically meet anybody from around the world and they’re coming out to see Shoni Schimmel. It’s not like she’s just your idol. I think it’s important to know there’s a girl out there we can all look up to.”

 Audience listens to Shoni Schimmel at Salish Kootenai College. (Photo by Rodney Harwood)

Not that long ago, Jude and Shoni were playing ball outdoors on the Umatilla reservation, pretending to be WNBA stars. Fifteen years ago, they could have been among the faces in the crowd Shoni was addressing today.

“I looked up to my parents, because they did a lot things not everybody did. I have an older brother [Shea] that I saw as a role model,” Schimmel said. “I also admired a lot of people my mom looked up, like Billy Mills and Jim Thorpe. I would hope [being a good role model] is what comes out of all of this. Just being able to go out there and live my dream, I would hope other Native Americans, not just girls, but boys as well, can go out there and live their dreams.”

 

 

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