Well, here is the story. When I was 11 or 12 years old, I had some surgery and was laid up for a bit. To help pass the time, my dad bought me a book – “The Jim Plunkett Story – The Saga of the Man Who Came Back”. While I was not a big Raiders fan, my dad said “Read it. You’ll like it.” So – I read it.
It is truly an inspirational story, and I recommend it to anyone who is a football fan – or anyone who wants to read a story about overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds… that sort of thing.
Here is the thing that REALLY stood out to me. Jim Plunkett is of Cherokee descent. He is an INDIAN dude! (Although he is also Hispanic – and that was the main “label” that was attached to him…)
I thought that was pretty cool! And it got my 11-12 year old brain wondering… are there other Indian athletes out there? I knew of Jim Thorpe, of course. Doesn’t everyone? Particularly football fans? But – what about other athletes? Oh! Wait! I am a University of Washington Huskies fan – and they had this great quarterback named Sonny Sixkiller! Yeah! That’s another one… I wonder who else?
And so it went. Time went by. I would think about this from time to time, and then put it on the back burner again.
Fast forward to 2017. I had been a commercial artist and graphic designer for a number of years and got the opportunity to become a high school art teacher – something I never thought I would do. The student population at Omak High School, where I currently teach art, is about half Native American, being located adjacent to the reservation of the Colville Confederated Tribes in Eastern Washington State.
After some months of interacting with about 150 students a day, I noticed something interesting. A LOT of kids – boys and girls – wore shirts and hats featuring sports heroes and teams. Michael Jordan. Kobe Bryant. Russell Wilson. Ichiro. Derek Jeter. Etc, etc, etc. That’s all well and good. But it struck me – do these kids know of any actual Native American athletes? Past or current? So – I asked. “Does anyone know who Jim Thorpe was? I know this is Art Class, but I am curious…” A couple of kids half-way put their hands up…“Didn’t he play football or something?”
So I took a couple of minutes and talked about how – yes, he DID play football, but was also the first Native American to win Gold Medals in the Olympics – AND he played major league baseball – and had a barnstorming basketball team – AND was the first president of what became the National Football League… an Indian guy – who grew up on the Rez (and went to Indian Boarding School) and had to deal with racism and a lot of the stuff that many of the kids I was talking to deal with.
That was the moment that really prompted me to take that kernel of an idea I had when I was 11 or 12 and do something with it.
Which brings us to NDN All-Stars. This is intended to be a platform where Native athletes from the past and the present can be featured and promoted to today’s youth – Native, white, black, purple – whatever label people feel they need to put on. There are tremendous inspirational stories of kids coming from such humble beginnings – just like Omak, or Nespelem, or pick any number of small towns on or near Indian Reservations, and going on to reach the top of their game. I already mentioned gold medals, so there are NDN All-Stars who have won world championships, thrown no-hitters, been elected to the Hall of Fame in their sport… and their stories need to be told and re-told – and reintroduced to today’s youth.
That is the humble beginning and basic foundation of NDN All-Stars.
If you enjoy the content here and would like to help support our mission of celebrating great Native athletes of the past and present, please take a look at our NDN All-Stars Shop. Proceeds from every purchase help us continue to retell these stories. Also, if you would like to donate to this effort, please visit our Patreon page.
Thank you for your support!