"Tell people that you care and that you're going to be walking
Diedra is 12. She is a 3-time Unity Hoops graduate and has been attending since the program began. In this interview she shares what she has learned as a part of the Unity Hoops family.
Bucky: When we did the activity about supporting our community… it all just kind of fell together… It gave them the self-motivation and the opportunity to do better things for other people. It gave the kids a lot of valuable information about their history, about modern society and about how they can help their families. We helped them come up with ideas for how to change their community in a positive way.
I heard that you were a big leader at St. Labre high school. Can you tell me about that?
Bucky: I was the president of the senior class, the president of the student council and the president of the Indian club.
What did you do in the Indian club?
Bucky: In the Indian club we did all sorts of sales, like Indian taco sales, throughout the school, and then we threw on a big St. Labre powwow in the springtime. We got all the teachers involved and everything like that… [The club] helped us with our cultural beliefs. It actually reminded us that we need to keep that going. Us guys were the leaders of the cultural part of the school. We emphasized the cultural meanings and explained things to the student body.
Tell me more about the powwow you all put on.
Bucky: It helped us. We had to work as a team to make sure everything clicked right. Our advisor wanted us to know what everything was behind the scenes for a powwow. All of us that were involved got to learn about everything that goes on.
What are your plans for the future?
Bucky: I’m going to go to Salish Kootenai college over in Pablo, Montana. I want to graduate and get a job that can support me and my family.
Well thanks Bucky for the interview and for all of your great work so far with Unity Hoops.
From July 1-3 Unity Hoops provided three clinics for youth on the Crow Indian Reservation. The majority of attendees had been coming to our programs for years and were thrilled to return. We were thrilled to have them back. Each day students learned that a good basketball player is a person who does everything they can to make their team better. They were then challenged to think about who their "team" could be in life itself. The theme of our 2013 program was "Native American Role Models." Students studied the life stories of Native American activists and community-minded basketball players who are trying to make life better for indigenous peoples. Similarly, students didn't only practice the fundamentals of the sport. They also came together to brainstorm ways that they could affect change and create healing in their families and in their community. They thought of small everyday actions that they could do to make a difference and identified larger injustices that they desired to tackle as they got older. Most importantly, all involved continued to build caring relationships with one another. All of us are looking forward to our future endeavors together.
A big thanks to Justin Big Hair, Ivy and Bucky Old Elk, Rob Pastore, and The Wellknown Buffalo Institute for their efforts to make our 2013 programs possible!
Students also had the opportunity to share their thoughts with us about what they would like to see from Unity Hoops in the future. This is a time of reinvention for our organization. Programs were shorter this year because the majority of our energy was spent gathering resources for the future. Though we are pleased with the work we have done thus far, we feel our current challenge is to develop a long term programmatic model and vision that could contribute to the building of a just and sustainable Crow community in larger, more tangible ways. Our students' feedback is very important to us as we move forward with this project.
Building a Loving Community: A Look into the 2012 Unity Hoops Summer Programs in Crow Agency, Montana
With a staff of 12 consisting of both Crow tribal members and non-native young adults and college students, Unity Hoops Basketball provided 4 weeks (two 2-week sessions held in July and August) of basketball-centered youth empowerment programs to a total of 151 Crow Native American youth ages 9-15. Here, basketball was used as a vehicle to teach all of us about the amazing things that are possible when we work together. We also went beyond basketball and integrated the game with educational content related to social justice and the lived experiences of our students.
Topics other than basketball included...
Students learned about their ability to control their own destiny in the midst of hardship, and to create positive change within their community.
As our program went on we quickly learned that the most valuable thing about our experience together was the creation of healing and meaningful relationships between students and staff, and among students themselves. Students learned to use one another as a support system to navigate many of the unique and severe challenges within reservation life, and staff members grew so much as they worked to facilitate this learning. It was an unforgettable experience that gave us all a newfound sense of hope.
A Few Testimonials from 2012
"Unity Hoops has affected a generation of kids in a way no one else ever does here."
- Susan, Crow Community Member
“Man I love this camp. It’s the best camp ever. Never give up, always
encourage your teammates and always keep your head up high.”
– Terrel, Age 11, 2012 Unity Hoops Graduate
“I’ve never seen Landin so excited to wake up in the morning to go out to do something.”
– Brianna, Mother of a Unity Hoops Grad
“We live out of town. It’s probably 50 miles to come into town. Some days I couldn’t come in.
He wanted to make it every day and would find rides to get into town. This week he stayed with his
grandmother in Crow. He chose to stay for the camp and benefitted from it a lot. I appreciate all the
things you guys are doing. If it wasn’t for you guys they wouldn’t have a place to go.”
- Pat Alden, Father of a Unity Hoops Grad
"I loved it. I went up there and watched. I thought it was fantastic, the encouragement you
give to kids and everything. I’d recommend anyone to go there. You taught them some great
things about teamwork. I hope you guys come again next year."
- Nancy Old Elk, Mother of a Unity Hoops Grad
"It’s very rare that we have an outside group come on to the reservation and do a children-focused group
like this. He made friends out of it and he lost weight actually… I hope you guys keep going every summer.
Bless your heart for putting this on for all of our Rez children. There are so many who are
just out smoking. I’m so thankful for the program you guys do.”
- Lacy Head, Mother of a Unity Hoops Grad
"I really thank the lord that you guys are all here.
You guys open your time and your hearts to these kids…"
- Mother of a Unity Hoops Grad
A Word of Thanks
A big thanks to staff members Todd Wilson, Stevana Sims, Huy-Liem Nguyen, Alex Kelly, Justin Bradley, Christina Mullen, Alex Fernandez, Morgan Tramontano, Keith Belcher, Ryan Phillips, and Ross Caplett, to the Center Pole, to all of our Unity Hoops graduates, and to our donors.
All of you poured so much hard work and love in to this.
You made this magical experience possible.
Thank you and Aho.
Donations: We still have a fair amount of outstanding expenses left over from our 2012 summer sessions. Donations are incredibly appreciated and will be used to cover these final expenses as well as to support our future programs. They can be made here.
Anyone can serve. To do the world's most important work, you need no extensive resumé. Social activist Richard Flacks frequently described two types of human action: "action directed at sustaining everyday life," and "action directed at the making of history." Those who consistently make it their obligation to challenge the status quo, to empower those in need, or to raise consciousness by merging the worlds of the suffering and the unaware, also bring together these two types of action. They direct their everyday lives at the making of history.
A group of 15 high school seniors from Sandy Spring Friends School has begun to grapple with this concept. For decades, Bob Hoch has taught a unique and powerful course in Native American History to a select group of seniors from this Maryland college preparatory school. Here, students learn about the real, genocidal implications of "manifest destiny." They uncover tales of government run boarding schools and relocation programs explicitly designed to destroy a way of life. Finally, they begin to understand the present endemic poverty on reservations and the caricatures and stereotypes strewn throughout American society that further degrade Native cultures. After hearing a presentation about the work and mission of Unity Hoops Basketball, this year's Native American History class made the decision to take their education one step further.
Like Daniel, we all have this capacity inside of us.
Martin Luther King, Jr. said, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly."
Unity, love and connection are scientifically some of our most central human needs - and, I believe, convey our collective purpose. It is possible that much of our journey here revolves around pushing through anxiety - through the shallow and the material - and finding ways to align who we are with what we do… Or, to make our everyday lives become the making of history - and possibly, of destiny.
The vision that brought Unity Hoops Basketball into existence arose in large part at LeaderShape, a week-long conference attended annually by 60 Dickinson College Students. There, among many things, participants delve deep into themselves and craft visions for a better world...
On January 21, 2012, this year's Dickinson LeaderShape graduates returned from their transformative retreat and were given a presentation by David Dean. This youtube video, along with the rest of the five part group, is the presentation that was given.
Learn about the life experiences, connections, struggles and underlying beliefs that made this vision a reality.
See all five parts here or at Youtube.com/UnityHoops
By David Dean
Many American Indian nations, including the Crow, have a different sense of time. Time is commonly seen as something circular, where past and future converge onto our current reality. When speaking of this concept, Lakota elder Birgil Kills Straight said, “We call it the hoop, the understanding… it’s all one; it exists within what’s called the sacred hoop.” The Crow too share the same ideology. The circle is an important symbol in Crow culture, representing all existence and simply meaning that “nothing ever ends.”
The horrific genocide, exploitation and western imperialism that Native peoples were subjected to throughout history damaged this circle, and thus laid the framework for present day reservation conditions of poverty, alcoholism, drug abuse, poor educational systems, substandard health-care, and low life expectancy.
Our logo has more symbolic meaning than meets the eye. The two strands that come out at the bottom of this basketball represent the opening of a road. That road presents a way to travel back into the sacred circle, where all things live as one, in balance and in harmony. This illustrates that one's ability to overcome and persevere will, like the circle itself, "never end." Creating healing and empowerment in the lives of Crow Native American youth is how we work to bring unity to this sacred hoop of existence - and we do this through hoops.
Unity Hoops Basketball supporting partner Chrissy Carew recently released Insightful Player, a book that chronicles the path that active and former players took to reach the NFL, not only using their football talents, but often taking genuinely heroic steps to overcome life’s obstacles.
One player’s father was murdered when he was eight; he had to duck for cover in his home when bullets were flying on his street. A Hall of Famer never had a winter coat or boots, and didn’t always have food to eat. Another former great was put in classes for the mentally disabled. His father “beat the tar” out of him and his coaches wouldn’t help him get into college because they said he had no talent.
All of these players overcame incredible hardship. Each story shows the immense power of the human spirit. We all need to be reminded of this – especially kids, and especially now. Providing lessons in perseverance, integrity, courage and values, Insightful Player is a playbook that can inspire us all.
Unity Hoops has shown outward support for Carew's work, including this testimonial of praise which can be found in the opening pages of the book.
"The Insightful Player model shows us that prominence and success come not from shallow conformity, or adhering to a group of accepted, previously set out guidelines, but instead from staying true to the deepest, most central parts of our own consciences, and from never, ever, giving up faith." - David Dean, Founder and Director of Unity Hoops Basketball
Chrissy Carew shares our belief that sport should be used to impart far greater teachings about life, dreams, unity, and the power inside all of us to overcome even the most difficult circumstances. In a world where images of self-centered materialism and shallow advertising of sport frequently trickle down by example to harm the lives of young people, Carew is attempting to blaze a different trail - one of bold, courageous hope.
We recommend that you Purchase Your Copy
and Join The Movement.
By David Dean --- Also Published by The Good Men Project
On the Crow Indian Reservation just south of Billings Montana a way of life exists that flows with the sun and seasons, one not contingent on the constant tick of the stress-filled clock so characteristic of western society. What remains most deeply etched into my mind about my experience there is not the expansive sky or the beauty of the natural world, but rather the continuing hardship of a people whose struggle has been neglected and hidden through history.
I remember the solemn faces of children searching for ways to express their feelings about the substance abuse that had taken the lives of their parents. I think back to a man telling the story of his false hope for greater federal aid following the election of President Obama.
I recall two girls, seven and thirteen, who, at different times, spoke to me without emotion, saying, “My mom died from drugs,” like it happened all the time. I cannot forget the shame so apparent in young teenagers after admitting that time and time again they went to bed hungry.
And the ten-year-old who broke down, and wept about her home life, sobbing, “My dad just drinks and drinks. We can’t live with him. I’m scared he’ll hurt me when he gets mad again. He already did that to my mom. She took me to Pryor where we stayed in a tent last night---I was so cold… Tonight I don’t know where she is---I can’t find her anywhere.” The girl then began to beg for a place to stay.
I often recollect the worn but penetrating stare of a spiritual and community leader who spoke to me slowly and with a lucid tone about the racism, second-rate educational systems, and lack of representation from both federal and reservation governments that act as barriers keeping Native youth from their potential, saying, “Our children are so behind. And they are our future. We all must help them to catch up.”
Or the wrinkled, scarred face of a high school basketball coach standing with his wife and daughter. He gazed at his feet and softly murmured, “We lost everything we had in the flood.” His words were interrupted by the bounce of a rubber ball on concrete, that somehow, if only for a moment, made things better.
I remember the look of helplessness and anger in the eyes of a young boy as he began to tear up, putting his hands over his face and whispering, “The men in my family are wicked.” Later I witnessed the same child dribbling through defenders with speed---running on the wind---finding peace of mind in the game that had almost become a part of culture itself---a game described to me by a Crow elder as “poetry in motion.”
Daybreak appeared on a cloudless horizon. The Center Pole youth outreach center, a shining light of hope for many, welcomed in the drifting sun through the front entrances of each of its buildings, which all face the east in the traditional Crow way. On this June morning the inescapable cold of the Montana winter had not yet been fully replaced by the expected heat of the later summer months. Our group of college players and lovers of the game who swore to wake up early to work out still rustled in sleeping bags on the chilly floor of the Center Pole lodge.
It was the first day of Unity Hoops Basketball Camp---better known as the Unity Hoops Basketball “Empowerment Program”---but the decision had been made to create flyers with the word CAMP substituted in an attempt to initially attract greater numbers of young people. That morning we woke and departed with a trailer full of balls, cones, snacks, and t-shirts. We had to bring gallons of store-bought water as well. A devastating flood had recently polluted the water supply and had also displaced hundreds of families, most of which were staying at the only gym in town, the Crow Multi-Purpose facility. Because of this we were situated a mile east of the small reservation town of Crow Agency, at the base of a large hill on a group of four isolated outdoor courts.
When the Center Pole graciously accepted my proposal in the spring of 2011, our organization was founded with the intention of using basketball as a common language to teach far greater life lessons to young people in need, bringing them together and teaching skills necessary for perseverance through the circumstances that they face everyday---in basketball and in life.
On the reservation, basketball is simply enormous. At Little Big Horn College, a local two-year institution, the game is the only sport offered. Many times basketballs are woven into feathered headdresses and traditional clothing worn during Native dance competitions and community gatherings. Conversations about whether Dirk and the Mavericks would beat the Heat to win their first title probably happened almost as often as they did in the frenzied areas of Dallas and South Beach. I met children named Kidd, MJ and Kobe, all named by their families after NBA legends.
Our staff enthusiastically welcomed the long line of young ball players waiting to sign up. But we didn’t get a very energetic response. Many greeted us with their heads down, limply shaking our hands as they cringed at the prospect of greater personal expression. It was incredible to see them open up as the week went on, finding meaning in our collective identity as the Unity Hoops Family.
By the end of each week campers were picking up trash, cheering each other on, setting goals, encouraging each other to stay internally strong in the face of adversity, or what we call at Unity Hoops "Thinking Like a Buffalo," and enthusiastically singing self-made cheers involving our three core principles: hustle, support of one’s teammates and belief in oneself and one’s dreams. An example went as follows, with one leader and a group repeating line by line:
Hustle, Support and Believe!
Doing these things we can achieve!
The Unity Hoops big family!
Together we will achieve our dreams!
The Montana sky is so colossal that one can observe storms coming from miles away. On the last day of camp, after two weeks of perfect weather, it looked as if we were about to be pummeled by rain---so much so that we were considering ending the day early. However Hunter thought differently. Hunter Popetsaitke is a small, wiry, high-voiced eleven year-old who is full of energy, typically seen racing the ball down the court only to shoot a strange, diving finger-roll layup from the free throw line.
And he, his sixth sense apparently in tune with forces of nature that I could not comprehend, was sure that the storm was NOT coming our way. He insisted, “It’s going east! It’s going east!” Reluctantly we listened and continued at our normal pace.
The Unity Award became the top prize at our graduation ceremony, held as the last event of the week. The award went to the athlete who brought all of our life concepts together, turning teaching on inclusive leadership, handling adversity and peer pressure, self-discipline and goal-setting into one inspiring whole.
And as the black clouds of Hunter’s prediction veered to the east just before they reached us, a burly 15-year old post player named Lando Stewart stood up to receive his Unity Award. After a long applause he asked us if he could address his peers with a short speech. He, and his newfound voice for leadership, pivoted toward his audience.
He began to speak to youth living in a world where jail was more likely than college, where unemployment percentages were far higher than life expectancies, where alcoholism was rampant and children were abandoned. He talked to the kids of broken homes who slept together in damp, abandoned trailers, the young people whose cultural identity had been stereotyped and degraded by the western world for centuries, those whose parents didn’t feed them, those whose angry fathers beat them, and those who just didn’t know what to do. At this moment, encircled by a whistling wind, Lando Stewart began to give a message of hope and empowerment.
Even when you’re down---you were born runners. So you need to keep on hustling. Every shot you get… take it no matter what. And always believe in yourselves no matter what… I hope all of you will be good high school ball players, go on to college, and do great things in the world. Just believe in yourselves and always stay together when times get tough. Thank you everybody.
Our goal is to use basketball as a metaphor for life. Unity Hoops Basketball was created for the children who play pickup games until the wee hours of the morning, their uneven courts and crooked rims lit only by the amazing stars of Montana’s night sky---the same stars that most kids there are too afraid to wish on. Hopefully, for the 120 children of the Crow Nation that we worked with this summer, we were able to change that.
A Window into Our World
Sustained by our dedicated staff, this blog should serve as a window into our world, providing stories of our work with youth on the Crow Reservation in Montana, organizational developments and events, as well as a source of deeper insight into our mission, vision and values.