How a Basketball Jersey Can Open Paths for Homegrown Opportunities – InForum

MINNEAPOLIS – “It’s an honor to play on Homeland.”

Those are the words printed on the black and gold pre-match jerseys that debuted in last Sunday’s University of Minnesota women’s basketball game against Presbyterian College.

The jersey features a combination of loom and beadwork designs that reflect both Dakota and Ojibwe heritage, said Anishinaabe designer Sarah Agaton Howes, who runs a modern Ojibwe design brand called Heart Berry. Flowers are framed by geometric shapes depicting the “step, step, slide” of an otter’s track, a culturally significant movement that appears in Ojibwe traditions, including the movement of jingle dress dancers.

Howes had suggested a new jersey design as the team sought to contribute to their Native American Heritage Game.

“The opportunity to play always means more when it’s about something bigger than ourselves,” the Minnesota women’s basketball program said in a statement. Days earlier, student athletes had met and learned from indigenous community leaders.


Sarah Agaton Howes holds the pre-match jersey she designed using Ojibwe and Dakota styles for the University of Minnesota women’s basketball team November 20 in Minneapolis.

Robyn Katona / MPR News

By honoring Aboriginal heritage, the team aims to pass on the learning. The new design, breaks for land recognition, an on-campus Tribal Nations Plaza — all serve as “an opportunity to educate all visitors to our campus about the unique, historical and ongoing contributions that the sovereign tribal nations have made to the state of Minnesota Call Minnesota.” at home,” the statement said.

The game also included a halftime display of drummers and jingle dress dancers.

“They called us to do the things those ancient Indians did,” smiled emcee Byron Ninham, dressed in a black vest embroidered with brightly colored flowers.

Ninham, a Red Lake Ojibwe resident and chartered member of the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin, said the old popular media portrayal of American Indians “just needs to be thrown away.” At the same time, he hopes these “quick encounters” with his legacy will spark conversations with non-native viewers.

“Maybe people have some questions in hindsight and we can provide more context and more information and history. But it gets the conversation going, like where you are and the people who are still here,” he said.

This wasn’t his first time on a basketball court. Earlier this year, Howes, who is also a jingle dress dancer, and former WNBA player Jessie Stomski Seim coordinated a similar exhibition for an NCAA Final Four game. They hope that such initiatives will not only expand familiarity with Native American culture, but also increase opportunities for young Native Americans on college campuses.

“Although there is an abundance of talent in Indian Country, less than half a percent of all NCAA students are Native Americans,” said Stomski Seim (Muscogee (Creek) Nation), an attorney who is general counsel for the Prairie Island Indian Community and Member of the Indigenous Athletics Advancement Council.

According to Stomski Seim, there are several reasons native high school athletes are underrepresented — for example, distance from cities that host recruiting teams, youth programs and resources. But she said: “The biggest thing is that the indigenous people in this country are still invisible. For centuries, for generations, it was about exterminating native people and/or making them invisible or assimilated. That’s not so long ago. Our grandmothers grew up in boarding school. This isn’t an old story. So we’re still dealing with that. Invisibility was intended to exist.”

To counteract this, Stomski Seim plans to take college scouts on a tour of Indian Country next summer.

For her part, Howes hopes the new jersey design will help both non-Native American and Native students feel welcome on campus.

Howes brought her 12- and 15-year-old children to the game to watch her perform in full regalia.

“For my two children to come to this university, to have Native people invited, to have Native people honored and thanked and applauded will change the way they think about how they belong in a college environment,” she said.

Jerseys for social change

The Minnesota Wild debuted their own custom hockey jerseys on Friday during a pregame warm-up to commemorate Native American Heritage Day. Designed in collaboration with the Prairie Island Indian Community, the jerseys pay homage to Minnesota’s Native American communities with a star quilt pattern and the Dakota phrase from which Minnesota takes its name – “Mni Sota Makoce”.

“Our tribe is proud to be active and engaged in Minnesota, and giving back is core to who we are as people of Dakota,” Johnny Johnson, president of Prairie Island’s Indian Community Tribal Council, wrote in a press release. “Our partnership with The Wild gives us a platform to share our history and celebrate our culture with the community, which is an honor for us on this national holiday.”

The warm-up jerseys will be auctioned through December 5, with proceeds going to the Minnesota Wild Foundation and Dream of Wild Health, an intertribal nonprofit dedicated to restoring “knowledge about and access to healthy Indigenous foods, medicines,” according to Minnesota Wild and ways of life”.


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