By Gyasi Ross
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.
It doesn't matter if someone is insulting Lakota, Navajo, Seminole, Nez Perce, or Seneca Indians. Non-Indians think all Indians are the same--that they all fit the Plains Indian stereotype. Non-Indians will tar-and-feather Indians with the same slights, affronts, and stereotypes, so tribes should react accordingly. They should assume an attack on one is an attack on all.
So the Navajo should be concerned when a Victoria's Secret model wears a Plains headdress. The Lakota should be concerned when Urban Outfitters appropriates the "Navajo" name. Similar issues affect every tribe, so they should fight the problems together. It was true when Tecumseh tried to unite the tribes against the white invaders, and it's true now.
For more on the Schimmel sisters, see Schimmel Sisters Advance to Final Four and Preview of Off the Rez.
Below: "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)