“Self-promotion goes against Native values and could be a reason for the lack of recognition.”
The various issues that Native American communities across the United States face are real.
The rightful inhabitants of the land have always been and still, to a certain extent, continue to be marginalized; with problems ranging from a troubled economy to a health endemic currently persisting within the reservations.
In a report conducted by University of Wisconsin (Madison) Professor Gary D. Sandefur, he mentions
“250,379 Indians lived on 36 reservations with populations of 2,000 or more. Three quarters of these Indians lived on the 18 reservations that had poverty rates of 40 percent or higher. In other words, approximately 14 percent of all American Indians in 1980 lived on large reservations with poverty rates of 40 percent or higher.”
Many concerned citizens of the country prefer that these reservations did not exist and its inhabitants leave the reservation for a better life, yet, they are amazed when they hear that American Indians would rather be a part of the reservations system.
Certain positive features of the reservation which people fail to understand include the massive culture base, with the reservation being
“the only place where one can speak to others in one’s own native language and share in a traditional way of life.”
Secondly, the resilient sense of family and communal ties which has been a coherent factor of their very existence. Thirdly, the issues surrounding life out of the reservation is kind of similar to that of a person immigrating to the US for the first time. As professor Sandefur explained with this example of health care,
“Once a reservation resident moves to an urban area, he or she usually has to arrange to obtain health care from providers that serve nonIndians as well.”
Social services and assistance programs on reservations are usually administered through the tribal government.
However, their seclusion has resulted in extreme poverty, high unemployment, unstable families, low rates of high school graduation, and high rates of alcoholism and/or drug abuse and crime on reservations and in central cities.
But one man is on the forefront to revolutionise the health endemic that has plagued the Indian communities through football. I was able to briefly chat with Boyna Bear, Chairman for the Native American Soccer Coaches Committee (NASCC), to understand the role football has played till date among the communities.
When and how did soccer come to the community?
This is an interesting question because our group’s, the Native American Soccer Coaches Committee, biggest initiative is to introduce soccer to Native American communities. Some communities have a surface knowledge of the sport but our goal is to build off of that interest. The NSCAA has been very supportive of our group and has provided coaching education, curriculum, and opportunities for our coaches and players.
Are there any local organizations geared specifically towards serving the needs of the community through the sport?
There are many different groups that are working to grow soccer in Native American Communities.
Southwest Youth Services (SYS) is a non-profit that hosts the Indigenous Soccer Cup every summer. SYS is based in Albuquerque, NM and has served many Native American communities throughout New Mexico. They have successfully partnered with local communities to provide opportunities and resources to our children.
The Notah Begay III Foundation is working to combat Type II Diabetes in Native American youth. They use soccer as part of their health & wellness initiatives. They created a soccer league on the San Felipe pueblo which is supported by tribal volunteer coaches.
Dancing with a Ball is a program that is based in South Dakota and is building an indoor soccer facility to serve youth in the Black Hills community.
The Osage tribe has grown their soccer program and is applying for USSF grants to provide a safe place to play for their children.
These are a few examples of local organizations that are working specifically towards growing soccer in their communities. We anticipate more interest and growth in the coming years.
When it comes to soccer among the Native community, not a lot is spoken or covered in the media. What do you think is the main issue here?
I think the biggest issue is that for the most part Native Americans are seen as being as the fringe of society. We had our first Native American player, Chris Wondolowski, represented in the World Cup Finals held in Brazil in the summer of last year. We have done our best, as to have other Native American media outlets, to celebrate this incredible accomplishment. The National media has also touched on his Native American background. I have not had the good fortune of meeting Wondo but it is great to see him represent our Native People in such an honorable and modest way. Self-promotion goes against Native values and could be a reason for the lack of recognition.
Do you think soccer can cure the difficulties (according to media – those problems are alcohol, drugs, low employment) that the various communities face at the moment?
Absolutely! Whenever we can provide opportunities and hope, through any avenue (sport, dancing, art, etc), we lift people. We have to invest and build into our children. Soccer can provide an environment that our communities crave; one that is built around caring for each other. Pride in what we do, who we are, and the traditional values we hold so dear. To do this we need servant leaders who model those values.
Are there any specific projects you and your organization are involved in to promote the sport all throughout the various reservations?
The NSCAA has worked to promote camps, teams, players, coaches, and communities that promote soccer. The Indigenous Soccer Cup (ISC) has been the biggest event that we support. The ISC has brought Native American children from all over the country as well as Canada to celebrate soccer and traditional values. It is a unique event that combines soccer with health wellness workshops in a collegiate environment. The event has been held at the University of New Mexico and New Mexico State University. The event has had the good fortune of having Billy Mills, Wes Studi, and Temryss Lane speak to our children and support them in their endeavors.
How is the US Soccer Federation helping in the growth of the sport among the community, in terms of infrastructure, training camps, etc.?
The US Soccer Federation has been helpful in providing gear through their Pass-back Program. We have had Native American communities apply for Safe Places to Play grants. We are hopeful that one of our communities is able to receive one of these grants in the near future. Having a soccer home that the children can be proud of will be instrumental in growing the sport in our communities.
Any help from the Major League Soccer (MLS) clubs?
We have not reached out to MLS clubs, yet. However, we are confident that as the interest grows in our communities, so will the support from MLS. Last year, Chivas USA (now defunct) hosted San Jose Earthquakes to a league game which was designated as Native American Day. This visibility was helpful in the growth of soccer.
Chris Wondolowski is obviously the most notable player who represented the community – can you provide any more details on his background? Are there any more? Were there players before Chris that just did not get an opportunity or the recognition that he received?
I do not know Chris Wondolowski personally but am very proud of what he has been able to accomplish. I do know that he is Kiowa and has relatives that still live in Oklahoma. His tribal name Bau Daigh, pronounced Bowe Dye, means warrior coming over the hill.
Within my club, TSC Hurricane, there are Native American girls playing at the ECNL level and are being highly recruited by colleges and universities across the country.
Our Native American Soccer Coaches Committee leadership (myself, Arron Lujan, Chris Behler, and Charles Pratt) all went through the youth Olympic Development Program through our respective state teams, regional teams, and national pool. We also played collegiately and professionally. We are sure that there are others out there and that is why we have invested so much time into growing our group. We want to know what other former Native American players and coaches are out there.
How does women’s soccer look like within the community? Is the community open to the idea of their women playing soccer?
It is growing! The community is open to women playing and we are fortunate to have some of our Native girls playing at the highest club level in the country.
And finally, what does the future of Native American soccer look like?
Very bright, my friend, very bright!
And we hope it remains that way as we continue to observe and track the progress of the game within the community.