By: Daryl Foust

The controversy over sports franchises using Native American mascots continues this fall and is especially relevant the week of Thanksgiving.

Two Native Americans play women’s basketball at U of L. Shoni and Jude Schimmel are from the Umatilla tribe in Oregon.  Last week, the team won the preseason NIT championship.  The game was played in Oklahoma, which has a large Native American population

The Schimmels are rock stars in the Native American community.  More than 6,000 people showed up to watch two women play and win the NIT.

Shoni says she and Jude started playing basketball on the reservation to stay out of trouble, just like most kids in urban communities.  “My mother would tell us that basketball was going to get us to school,” she said.

Today, less than one percent of professional athletes are Native Americans.  Half compete in some sport during high school on reservations and about 20 percent go on to college.  Oklahoma boasts a high school graduation rate of 63 percent for Native American students – one of the highest in the country.

Shoni says that her and her sister visited several west coast reservations over the summer speaking to youth about their experiences on and through the basketball court coming from reservation life.

“I am trying to show Native Americans that they can leave the reservation and make it.  Go to school and get a quality education to support their family.  You can go back to the reservation later.  The problem is that the reservation is very comfortable.  It’s hard to leave. For us to go to college it was very important to move to Portland, it was a better chance to get exposure.”

Shoni mentions that it is common misconception that the Natives on reservations live in tee-pees and wear feathers but confirms these are false stereotypes. While there are and were Native American tribes who sport such attire, having this as a mascot causes people to believe that all tribes do this and or do this every day. This is a stereotype; a false image being placed in the minds of our youth.

Regarding Native American mascots, Shoni said “I don’t think they should have them because it’s spreading false images.  They don’t teach you the history.  But being Native American, I’m a fan of the Cleveland Indians and my brother is a Blackhawks fan.  Native Americans think it’s cool within each other but it wasn’t right in the first place.”

Following an overtime 97-92 Cardinal victory in Oklahoma, the two stayed to sign autographs for the crowd of about 150 Native Americans despite a Sooner loss.  These fans felt a little closer to their heritage than an intercollegiate affiliation.

“It’s an honor to be an inspiration to young Native Americans and a huge eye opener for me.  It’s all because of basketball.  I’m glad I have the opportunity to make people better.  My ultimate goal is to show them they can make it, it has to be within yourself,” Shoni said.

Photo by: Austin Lassell