When longtime friends and collaborators Notah Begay III (Navajo/San Felipe/Isleta Pueblo) and Sam McCracken (Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux), the head of Nike N7, get together, big ideas unfold — ideas that not only have the potential to promote health and tribal sovereignty, but stand to benefit generations of Native youth.
Their goals and aspirations have aligned since the first time they spoke. They met in the summer of 1998, at a Web.com event, the developmental tour for the U.S.-based PGA Tour, connecting over a shared passion to get more Native youth into the sport.
Come 2000, McCracken drafted a business plan for fostering relationships between Nike and tribes, and increasing the amount of physical activity across Indian country. This was the seed that would become Nike N7.
Nike N7 is a commitment to bring sport and all of its benefits to Native American and Aboriginal communities across North America. According to Begay, the magnitude of N7’s influence and impact cannot be overstated: “It’s the single biggest historical opportunity to leverage the accomplishments of Native athletes in a comprehensive effort to shed light on the challenges that Native children face on a day-to-day basis, and to use these athletes, these ambassadors, to inspire [youth] and encourage them to believe that they can be more.”
The N7 vision also involves uniquely designed N7 apparel and footwear that supports the N7 Fund. The N7 Fund provides grants to Native and Aboriginal communities in support of sport and physical activity programs for youth. In addition, N7 boasts an impressive roster of N7 Ambassadors who represent the power of sport to unleash human potential. These athletes are breaking records and serving as role models to indigenous youth. “There’s been no point in history that we’ve had World Series champions, PGA Tour winners, Heisman Trophy winners and gold medalists in a single generation. It’s an unprecedented period of time,” Begay says.
Now, N7 is expanding to include the Nike N7 Golf Initiative, officially launching in July 2016. Spearheaded by McCracken and Begay with Nike Golf, it’s a multi-pronged effort that gives tribally owned pro shops an exclusive on N7 golf merchandise (with the opportunity to co-brand), and sends Native golf pros out to promote tribal youth engagement in the game.
The N7 Golf merchandise includes a new shoe and golf apparel, such as traditional Nike golf polos emblazoned with the N7 logo — and potentially the tribal golf club’s logo as well. “I’m pretty biased, but I think the N7 brand has a unique resonance with tribal communities, and I think they understand that the mark and the logo belongs to them, and that proceeds from [N7 product sales] go back to inspire our kids to be more physically active,” McCracken says.
Earlier this year, Nike Golf placed select N7 Golf apparel at test sites across the country. “We hand-picked a few marketplaces,” McCracken says, among them: Talking Stick Golf Club in Scottsdale, Arizona; Indian Canyons Golf Resort in Palm Springs, California; and The Country Club at Soboba Springs in San Jacinto, California. It’s already gone viral: Some Native golf pros, like Jason G. Montoya, PGA professional at Talking Stick, have made waves across social media, regularly posting photos of the N7-branded merchandise. “Now the buzz is out on where you can get it,” McCracken says.
This summer, N7 Golf will begin a more aggressive outreach to tribal golf clubs across the United States to give them the chance to sell the new apparel. “It’s very exciting to say that the only place you can buy this product is at tribally owned golf courses,” McCracken says.
The merchandise will be funneled back into the other initiatives: N7 sales will help support indigenous communities and sport programming through the N7 Fund.
MCracken says this will be yet another incentive for people to purchase the merchandise: “The investment they made in that product — it’s going to go back to inspire kids to be active.”
In their conversations about empowering Native youth, McCracken and Begay noticed that despite having golf courses virtually in their backyards, tribal members, and youth in particular, rarely take advantage of the opportunity. To change that, Nike Golf, Nike N7 and Begay searched far and wide across Indian country for golf pros with deep roots in Native-owned courses who could be instrumental in golf education and outreach to Native youth and tribal communities.
The N7 Golf professionals are Begay, Jason G. Montoya, Issac Henry-Cano, Steve Tooshkenig and Alexandrea Schulte. [Check back with ICTMN on consecutive days for individual profiles on the five pros.] “They are spearheading, or evangelizing, on the exciting opportunities for more Native youth to golf,” McCracken says.
“These folks are putting together clinics and programming so that Native youth can come and use the golf courses that are in their geographical area to maximize the opportunity for them to get out and play. I think if you talk to any tribal leader that has a connection to their community course, they’re going to want to get their tribal members, especially their youth, out to utilize the facility.”
These Native and Aboriginal golf pros work and reside in the communities. “Many of these representatives that we work with grew up on these reservations, and that is one of the biggest assets you can have when trying to make a difference,” Begay says. “It’s not like a church or a third-party nonprofit or a government agency trying to come in and make an impact in the community where they don’t have anything invested in it. We’re one degree or no degree of separation from the communities that we’re trying to serve. And that, in and of itself, puts us ahead of the game with regards to ideas that can have a sustainable, long-term impact.”
Like N7, the Notah Begay III Foundation (NB3F) is committed to improving Native health. NB3F invests in evidence-based, community-driven and culturally relevant programs that prevent childhood obesity and type 2 diabetes. Begay, with the help of his brother Clint Begay (p. 19), will be using his nonprofit to further the mission of N7 Golf. Part of the foundation’s national initiative to support health and fitness among native youth is NB3FIT, which involves a fit challenge on November 13, 2016, to engage 10,000 young Natives to get physical in any way from hiking to shooting hoops. Eventually, Begay envisions a golf component to
“I’d really like to see us start NB3Fit Golf programs in reservations across the country and get more kids into the sport, because it’s a good sport predicated on honor and tradition and sportsmanship,” Begay says. “Those are the building blocks of the Native belief system— respect for our traditions, honoring our communities. There are a lot of similarities in how golf ’s played and how traditional American Indians used to live.”
Begay will continue to serve youth in Indian country with his foundation, by serving as an N7 Golf ambassador and by inspiring his fellow N7 Golf professionals to realize their power and leverage it. “We try to impress upon them the fact that they can make an impact. They can be an influencer, they can change a child’s mindset about what’s possible. We need our kids to start believing that they can make their communities better, because they’re the ones responsible for the change, ultimately.”