Players at the annual Basketball Against Alcohol and Drugs Tournament on the Umatilla Indian Reservation talked about more than hoops Tuesday.
Every team, win, lose or draw, participated in motivational workshops at the Yellowhawk Tribal Health Center
Presenters Frank Waln, 25, and Tanaya Winder, 29, led group after group to talk about what they hope to achieve in life. Waln is an award-winning rap artist in Chicago, and Winder is a writer, spoken-word poet and director of the Upward Bound Program at University of Colorado at Boulder. She also is Waln’s manager. They both earned Gates Millennium Scholarships in high school. They both are American Indian and grew up on reservations. They presented Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday before departing Oregon.
Waln is Sicangu Lakota, and said his mother raised him on the poverty-stricken Rosebud Indian Reservation on the southern border of South Dakota. Sober all his life, he said peers pressured him to drink or get high but he resisted. If he had followed them, he said he would not be who he is today.
“No one ever did anything like this on my rez when I was growing up, and I wish they did,” Waln said. “No one my whole life asked me what I want to do. Which was music.”
But he said he kept that under wraps in high school because no one encouraged him. So instead he did what others told him — get off the reservation, become a doctor, then come back and help his people. The Gates scholarship allowed him to go to medical school, but after two years and feeling suicidal, he told his mother he wanted to rap for a living.
She supported him, he said, and now he is living his dream.
Waln and Winder had players pair up with someone from a different team, and each had to tell the other three life goals. The partners then introduced each other to the group and shared those goals out loud.
Gracie wants to be a zoologist. Paige hopes to play in the Women’s National Basketball Association, as did several others. Tonya wants to be a writer.
Then the players had to talk about fears and challenges they may face in achieving their dreams. Winder, who is from the South Ute Reservation, Colorado, said she lost a close friend to suicide, so she deals with not always being there for people who may need her. And she also said she fears the unknown.
“I’m always just afraid of the bottom falling out when things are going good,” she said.
Players then talked about their fears. Many admitted they were scared of not being good enough or smart enough. Winder said only through admitting and naming their fears could they hope to overcome them.
“Don’t let anyone tell you (that) you can’t do what you want to do,” she said.
The presenters also treated the players to short performances. Waln rapped a cappella, and Winder let rip with her poetry.
Jabber Davis, 43, is a father and coaches one of the teams in the tournament. He said he watched who paid attention to Waln and Winder and who seemed to be there because they had to be. He said some of the youth would benefit from this, while he was not so sure of others. Positive messages like these matter, he said, and he hoped it has positive effects.
As American Indians, Waln and Winder said they seek to motivate and invigorate the younger generations.
“I think of it like we’re here to ignite little fire everywhere we go,” Winder said.
And with the right fuel, those sparks may turn into blazes.