20-3 “Tribal Athletes Fight for their Place” Resource Guide

Feb 15th, 2009 | By | Category: 20-3: Tribal Athletes Fight for Their Place, Online resource guides, Resource Guides, Web Exclusive
By Darryl Monteau

Games and sports have always been a part of American Indian cultures. Today, traditional games such as hand games and stickball are still played at American Indian celebrations and gatherings across the country. Contemporary sports such as basketball, football, cross country and rodeo have become an important part of American Indian culture as well.

Tribal colleges and universities (TCUs) are providing students opportunities to participate in traditional games and intramural and intercollegiate sports. For example, the annual American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC) Student Conference includes both traditional hand games and basketball tournaments for students. The hand game competition has become a main attraction at the event, and many TCUs participate and enjoy the socializing.

It is important to understand the origins of tribal games for preservation and educational purposes. Hand games, for example, are played a variety of ways depending upon the host tribe or regional area.

In hand games, two opposing teams earn points for guessing correctly who holds a certain object. In Oklahoma, the game is played with two sets of bones (one bone is marked in each set) and directly involves two hiders and one guesser. The team hiding the bones also provides the songs and evokes a team spirit. Only the team hiding the bones can score points. The guessing team must guess both hiders to retain control of the scoring.
For some tribes, hand games are a seasonal activity and cannot be played until the first frost has touched the ground. Hand games allow not only the players to be involved but spectators can enjoy the competitive spirit as well.

Stickball is played by many tribes, and it originates hundreds of years ago. The Choctaw often refer to stickball as ishtaboli — “little brother of war.” A long time ago, Choctaws would use stickball to settle disputes among their villages. The game is played with a ball made out of leather and handcrafted sticks. The stick has a long handle and a cup or basket at the end that allows the players to catch and pass the ball. The object of the game is to hit a goal post with the leather ball. The goal post is set up in the middle of the playing field.

Players are not allowed to use their hands, only their sticks, to score points. The game can become very physical as well. Tactics such as tackling, blocking, or any type of interference are permitted to stop the opposing team from scoring. Lacrosse is the contemporary version of stickball now played at colleges and universities across the country.

It is equally important to recognize the contributions American Indian athletes have made throughout the years in collegiate and professional sports. Outstanding athletes such as Jim Thorpe, John Levi, and Olympic Gold Medalist Billy Mills are the most heralded American Indian athletes in the past century and have connections to Carlisle Institute and Haskell Institute, both former boarding schools for American Indians.

This Resource Guide lists historical and contemporary information on tribal games and sports developed and published within the last decade. Many contributions were made to this topic prior to 1998, with the most noted American Indian Sports Heritage by Joseph B. Oxendine, 1988. The media list contains current information including books, journal articles, websites, and other media publications relevant to TCUs.


Bloom, J. (2000). To Show what an Indian can do: Sports at Native American boarding schools. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.
This is an inspiring account of American Indian students attending Haskell Institute and Carlisle Indian School, which focuses on sports providing them a sense of belonging and achievement.

Fisher, D.M. (2002). Lacrosse: A history of the game. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Fisher provides an overview of the history of lacrosse from pre-colonial times to its current presence in the professional sports arena. The origins of this sport served specific purposes related to preparation for warfare, socialization, and spiritual beliefs.

Fuss-Mellis, A. (2003). Riding buffaloes and broncos: Rodeo and Native Traditions in the Northern Great Plains. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press.
Over the past century, many tribes have welcomed the rodeo competitions into their communities and tribal gatherings. Sanctions were placed on tribes by “Indian agents” then who discouraged traditional gatherings but allowed tribal people to participate in rodeo events. Because of American Indians’ reverence for the horse and sense of community, rodeos have become a major part of American Indian culture.

Jenkins, S. (2007). The real all-Americans: The team that changed a game, a people, a nation. New York: Doubleday.
At the turn of the 20th century, the great powerhouse football teams were not found in the Ivy League schools. Instead, the most amazing and remarkable teams were found at Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania. Carlisle’s controversial beginnings as a boarding school are not the typical background from which prestigious athletes and teams would emerge. This account provides a well researched account of the establishment of the institution, the game of football, and the athletes.

King, C.R. (2005). Native athletes in sport & society: A reader. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press.
A collection of essays, this reader provides a diverse range of topics related to American Indians and sports. Themes discussed in addition to sports include identity and the significance of American Indian athletes.

Peavy, L. and Smith, U. (2008). Full court quest: The girls from Fort Shaw Indian School basketball champions of the world. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.
This book tells the compelling story of the girls’ basketball team from Fort Shaw Indian School and their journey to becoming the world champions at the 1904 World’s Fair. This detailed account brings to life the stories behind the players through historical research including oral history from their descendants and photographs.

Powers-Beck, J.P. and Oxendine, J.B. (2004). The American Indian integration of baseball. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press.
This book provides an in-depth look at American Indians in baseball and the challenges they faced on and off the field.

Vennum, T., Jr. (2008). American Indian lacrosse: Little brother of war. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.
This historical account looks into the traditional world of lacrosse, also known in northeastern tribal language as “little brother of war.” The game has been played for many years, and the correlations to warfare are intriguing. Details in the construction of the sticks and the ball have significant meaning to tribes and the athletes.


Sullivan, S.P. (2004). Education through sport: Athletics in American Indian boarding schools of New Mexico, 1885-1940. (Doctoral Dissertation, The University of New Mexico, 2004). Retrieved from ProQuest Dissertations and Theses, 207.
Although the focus of this dissertation is athletics in boarding schools, it provides an in-depth look at the effects of sports participation on American Indian students.

Journal Articles
 Jackson, J. B. (2000). Signaling the Creator: Indian football as ritual performance among the Yuchi and their neighbors. Southern Folklore57(1), 33-64.
 The Yuchi culture includes traditional games and sports. As with most tribes, these games have significant meaning to the tribe. Yuchi football is a sporting event considered to be ceremonial and spiritual.

Powers-Beck, J. (2001). “Chief”: The American Indian integration of baseball, 1897-1945. American Indian Quarterly, 25(4), 508-538. Retrieved from www.jstor.org.www2.lib.ku.edu:2048/stable/1186015.
This article is a historical account of the game of baseball and the American Indian athletes who participated and endured many challenges such as racism. Most of these athletes came to the sport of baseball through the boarding schools.

Schmidt, R. (2001). Lords of the prairie: Haskell Indian school football, 1919-1930. Journal of Sport History 28(3), 403-426.
The early football teams from Haskell Institute are the most revered teams featuring American Indian athletes. Haskell was first established as a boarding school with the mission of assimilating young American Indian boys and girls into the ways of the white man. The stories and accounts from the student athletes during the period of domination for Haskell football are inspiring. This article provides a historical overview of these gridiron teams as they sought to establish themselves as fierce competitors in the sport.

Peavy, L., & Smith, U. (2007). “Leaving the whites… far behind them”: The girls from Fort Shaw (Montana) Indian School, basketball champions of the 1904 World’s Fair. International Journal of the History of Sport, 24(6), 819-840.
Many young American Indian men and women participate in basketball at the high school and collegiate level. This inspiring story focuses on the 1903 all girls team from an Indian boarding school in Montana. These young women overcame racial and gender barriers and proved their exceptional athleticism by winning the state’s first basketball championship.

Online Resources

See this online resource (www.ndnsports.com) for the latest information on American Indian sports. It includes news stories about tribal colleges and universities.

Pathways: Modified American Indian Games
This site has a large selection of modified American Indian games specifically for elementary and secondary students (in PDF format). See http://hsc.unm.edu/pathways/assets/download/aigames.pdf

Mississippi Valley Archaeology Center at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse
Several examples of American Indian games from many tribes are included. This resource was made possible through collaboration between the university and the Ho Chunk Department of Heritage and Preservation. See www.uwlax.edu/MVAC/Knowledge/NAGames.htm

Sport Organizations

American Indian Athletic Hall of Fame
Founded in 1972, the American Indian Athletic Hall of Fame pays tribute to outstanding athletes who have made an impact on history and American Indian people. Housed on the Haskell Indian Nations University Campus in Lawrence, KS, the Hall of Fame includes tributes to Jim Thorpe, John Levi, Billy Mills, and other hall of fame inductees. See http://americanindianathletichalloffame.com/

National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association
The NIRA membership includes over 130 colleges and universities, including some TCUs. The organization provides scholarships and a variety of competitions for student members. See www.collegerodeo.com.

Native American Basketball Invitational Foundation
NABI showcases American Indian talent and hosts basketball tournaments attracting college scouts for both men and women’s basketball. This foundation has garnered support from various groups and organizations and continues to develop and expand its vision. See www.nabihoops.com/

Tribal College Intercollegiate Sports
The following webpage links provide information on intercollegiate sports at TCUs, including schedules, rosters, and coaching information. Note: Some TCUs only participate in one sport. (For information about other tribal college sports, see the directory of TCUs elsewhere on this website, www.tribalcollegejournal.org/aihec/aihec.html

Diné College – Contact information: Abraham Bitok, director, (505) 368-3567, email akbitok@dinecollege.edu. See www.dinecollege.edu/gowarriors/index.php

Haskell Indian Nations University – Contact information: Ted Juneau, athletic director, (785) 749-8449, email tjuneau@haskell.edu. See www.haskell.edu/athletics/index.html

Little Big Horn College – Contact information: David Small, athletic director, (406) 638-3110, email smalld@lbhc.cc.mt.us. See www.lbhc.edu/athletics/

Northwest Indian College – Contact information: Penny Carol Hillairem, director, (360)392.4329, email pchillaire@nwic.edu. See www.nwic.edu/

Salish Kootenai College – Contact information: Head Men’s Coach Zachary Conko-Camel (406) 275-4800, ext. 5999, or email zacharyc@cskt.org; Head Women’s Coach Juan Perez (406) 275-4978, email juan_perez@skc.edu. See http://athletics.skc.edu/

United Tribes Technical College – Contact information: Daryl Bears Tail, director, (701) 255-3285. See www.uttc.edu/

Darryl Monteau (Kiowa/Apache/Comanche) is a graduate student in the Educational Leadership and Policy Studies, Higher Education Administration Program at the University of Kansas. Monteau received her Bachelor’s Degree in American Indian Studies from Haskell Indian Nations University where she was selected as the 2007 American Indian College Fund Student of the Year for Haskell.

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