Ball Is Life: My Other Hoop Dance

Ruth Hopkins

The 2015 Lakota Nation Invitational was this past weekend, so basketball is on everyone’s minds; but for those of us who were born and raised on the Rez, it’s always been a part of our lives.

Shooting hoops and cheering on young relatives competing in regional and state tournaments is fun, but for some, basketball isn’t just a game. It’s a lifestyle.

For Michael Linklater, basketball was a means to escape poverty and oppression. Michael, Thunderchild Cree, is from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada. He didn’t have it easy as a child. He grew up in the inner city. Still, he defied all stereotypes. Michael’s abstained from drugs and alcohol his entire life. He was raised by his grandparents, and credits his strong sense of identity from being grounded in his culture. He’s never cut his hair and regularly participates in ceremony.

Today, Michael is the epitome of a positive role model for Native youth. He set goals and accomplished them all. While attending the University of Saskatchewan, he was the Captain of the basketball team, and led them to their first championship. He’s played basketball professionally, for the IBL’s Edmonton Energy. This past Fall he played in a World Allstar Tournament in the United Arab Emirates. Linklater is also a part of a four-man team that qualified for a 3X3 World Tour Tournament. They are the only team that qualified from Canada and he is ranked #1 in North, Central, and South America.

Off the court, Michael works with troubled urban youth through White Buffalo Youth Lodge, as a sports/recreation/fitness coordinator. He’s a motivational speaker as well. His story is remarkable, yet he remains humble. He teaches us about the importance of culture and confidence, and believing in one’s self. A training company is in the works too; Prime Basketball Development. Watch for it.

Michael says everything he’s learned on the court applies to real life. He credits basketball with teaching him how to work as part of a team, be self-reliant, helping him meet new people, and taking him to every corner of North America. He encourages Native youth to participate in the sport and offers this advice: “Young players will see the results of what they put into it.”

Jaye Two Bears is a bright young star emerging from the northern plains. She is a senior at Shiloh Christian in Bismarck, North Dakota and a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. Jaye says she was born into the sport, and has been playing since she was 4 years old. Her family is supportive. Her major life influences have been her two older brothers, Cody and Dj Two Bears.

She has received a full scholarship from Milwaukee and will begin transitioning there in June 2016. She plans on studying business management, and after graduation she would like to pursue a variety of interests, including the possibility of playing ball overseas, or for the WNBA. Eventually, she would like to coach. Jaye has learned a lot about life from playing basketball, and also serves as a role model for Native youth.

“Give it your best. Be generous. Be humble. Keep trying and work hard. It doesn’t even have to be sports. Anything you love and put your mind to, you can achieve,” Jaye says.

For those with talent, skills, determination and ambition, it’s never too early to set your sights on hoops dreams. Joe Jahner Jr. is a member of Three Affiliated Tribes and a freshman basketball player at Bismarck High School. He’s been playing since the second grade. He’s a point guard/shooting guard. Joe’s AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) team, the Minnesota Comets, is one the top 15 AAU programs in the Midwest and in the nation. Young Mr. Jahner selected as being one of the best in the Midwest. He looks forward to going onto play college ball. “More Natives should join basketball.” Joe is one to watch, on and off the court.

For many Natives, basketball is life. Just as we’ve supported other great Native athletes like Jim Thorpe, Billy Mills, Notah Begay III and Shoni Schimmel, we must continue to shine a light on up and comers and provide new opportunities for youth to succeed, in sports and elsewhere. We’ve so much athletic potential in Indian Country, and we’re only seeing an inkling of what’s to come.

Ruth Hopkins (Sisseton Wahpeton & Mdewakanton Dakota, Hunkpapa Lakota) is a writer, blogger, biologist, activist and judge.

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