ON THE SIDELINES: Tribal nations should be represented at the Olympics

by Mar 8, 2018SPORTS di-ne-lv-di-yi

PRIDE: Holden Straughan, an EBCI tribal member and senior member of the Cherokee Braves varsity football team, carries the flag of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians into Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh prior to the start of the 1A State Championship game on Dec. 9, 2017. (SCOTT MCKIE B.P./One Feather)






Like I’ve written about before, my family is really into winter sports.  We watched as much of the Winter Olympics as we could, but, before that, we watched the World Cup races for all of those same sports throughout the season.  We truly follow those sports like we do football.

As we were watching the opening ceremonies of this past Olympics, my daughter questioned why there were no tribal nations represented in the Parade of Nations and at the games period.  Good question.

There have been some very notable American Indian athletes over the years including Jim Thorpe (Sac and Fox) who won gold in both the decathlon and the pentathlon events at the 1912 Summer Olympics in Stockholm, Sweden and Billy Mills (Oglala Lakota) who won gold in the 10,000 meter run at the 1960 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Japan.

But, they both competed for the United States of America.

My daughter’s point and wish is that tribal nations, sovereign tribal nations, should work to have their own teams.

It is actually not that far-fetched of an idea, and technically, it has already happened.  The sport of lacrosse, no longer a recognized Olympic sport, was actually one of the competitive sports at both the 1904 Summer Olympics in St. Louis and the 1908 Summer Olympics in London.  A team known as the Mohawk Indians, from the Six Nations Reserve, competed at the 1904 games.

Today, the Iroquois National Lacrosse team competes internationally under their tribal confederacy.  And, they’ve been quite successful taking second place at the World Indoor Lacrosse Championships in 2003, 2007, 2011, and 2015 and third place at the 2014 World Lacrosse Championship.  The team was officially admitted to the International Lacrosse Federation in 1987.

Lacrosse will not be in the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo, but there has been speculation that it will be added for the 2024 Games.  And, I’d bet that the Iroquois National team will make a bid to be there if that occurs.

The Olympic Charter is a little vague on how nations can become recognized by their organization.  Article 4, Section 30, Number 1, states, “In the Olympic Charter, the expression ‘country’ means an independent state recognized by the international community.”

Well, to me, that sounds a whole lot like tribal nations, sovereign tribal nations.

Granted, there would be a massive amount of work that would go into this before it could become a reality, but that groundwork can start now.  Indian Country is full of some of the most naturally-gifted athletes anywhere.  Being able to train in their nation’s homeland and represent that same homeland would be a huge boost for many of these athletes, especially those who don’t have the resources to travel to Olympic training facilities.

I’ve written before that my favorite photographs are always ones that show emotion.  It’s fun to take photos of great basketball shots or someone flipping upside down in football, but the pictures that really stick with me are ones of raw emotion.

One of my favorite photos I took last year occurred at the 1A state championship game.  But, it didn’t have anything to do with play on the field, and, as a matter of fact, I took it before the game even started.

It’s a photo of Holden Straughan, an EBCI tribal member and senior member of that Braves championship team, running into the stadium holding the flag of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.  That cold, snowy day, the Braves were not just representing Cherokee High School.  They were representing the entire Tribe.  The pride on his face beamed.

That’s what my daughter was talking about.