Native players from throughout Indian Country and Hawaii are hitting the courts hard in preparation for the Hawaiian Way Fund’s three-day Native Basketball Tournament. This unique, multi-cultural event is a benefit competition that will be held at the King Intermediate School gym in Kaneohe on the Hawaiian Isle of O‘ahu, Aug. 19-21.
The tournament precedes the nonprofit Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement’s 10th Annual Native Hawaiian Convention, which takes place for four days following the court action.
Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara Chairman Tex Hall, Mandan/Hidatsa, who will offer the opening remarks at the convention, says he’s thrilled to return to Hawaii to play ball and then discuss policy with other American Indian leaders from throughout Indian Country.
“Our hats go off to them for adding this tournament,” he says. “In our cultures, you can’t just do ‘mind’ — it’s mind, body, and spirit. A lot of times conferences will be meetings and discussions with other leaders. But if you can get out there and compete with them, run with them, sweat with them, and then shake hands, it really opens things up socially, emotionally, physically and spiritually.”
Hall explains that indigenous cultures were traditionally built on a holistic mind-body-spirit way of life. When that triad is broken, individuals do not perform in any of these areas to their highest potential. This breakdown is one of the factors contributing to the high level of diabetes, heart disease, obesity and suicide in American Indian cultures.
“If we can regain that mind-body-spirit connection, we can get back to being healthy Native peoples,” he says. “If we can have conferences that are built around athletics, that’s going to help us build healthier lifestyles.”
Now in its second year, the tournament will be comprised of four divisions: Men’s, Women’s, and Men’s and Women’s 35 and over. This year, eleven men’s teams and six women’s teams have signed up: two from Alaska, six from Indian Country within the contiguous U.S. and nine from the Hawaiian islands. They will vie for $2,500 for first place and $1,000 for second place in each team division, Most Valuable Player T-shirts for every game played and a $500 cash prize for men and women’s three-point contests.
More importantly, the participants interviewed say, are the opportunities to play with other Native peoples from throughout the country, to promote lifelong fitness, and to raise money for community-based initiatives founded on Hawaiian culture, knowledge and traditions.
D.One women’s team coach Clay Cockett, Native Hawaiian, says his players have never had the opportunity to compete in this type of event before.
“I think it brings an awareness to the players,” he says. “It’s not just basketball, but [the players] have some of the same goals athletically as well as culturally.”
He says the events have caused each of his players to think about their heritage more deeply.
D.One is a collegiate women’s basketball league on O’ahu. Throughout the summer, select players also offer youth basketball camps primarily to promote good health and fitness and to help young girls attain their goals in athletics.
Hall’s team, the North Dakota Warriors, is in the Men’s 35 and over category. During the year, the Warriors compete in tournaments throughout the country.
“Native hoops is part of Indian Country. With more and more competitive tournaments that offer 40 and over and 50 and over categories, it really promotes people staying healthy for their entire lives,” Hall says.
Lilia Kapuniai, CNHA Vice President, says that for spectators the diversity of the players’ backgrounds and vocations are the most compelling elements of the tournament.
“It’s a fantastic fellowship of men and women from every walk of life that are very competitive on the court, and many of them off the court are incredible advocates of indigenous cultures.”
The four-day conference, to be held at the Hawaiian Convention Center in Honolulu, will feature lectures, workshops, forums and networking sessions detailing American Indian and Native Hawaiian community development. Workshops and discussions will be focused on housing, education, energy development, sovereignty, traditional story and chant, university curriculum, as well as grant writing and applications. The conference draws more than 1,000 participants each year who enjoy sport, Hawaii and the chance to network with Alaska Native, American Indian and other Pacific Islanders including the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands, American Samoa, Guam and Palau.
“It’s really a package that other Natives should look at attending,” Hall says.
CNHA is a national network of Native Hawaiian organizations, providing assistance in accessing capital and technical resources, and is a policy voice on issues important to Native Hawaiian communities. Its mission is to enhance the wellbeing of Hawai‘i through the cultural, economic and community development of Native Hawaiians. More information can be found at www.hawaiiancouncil.org or by calling CNHA at (808) 596-8155 or (800) 709-2642.