In 1963, President John F. Kennedy proclaimed that our foremothers and fathers in Virginia and Massachusetts “gave reverent thanks for their safety, for the health of their children, for the fertility of their fields, for the love which bound them together.” Later in 1986, upon designation of a week of American Indian observance that coincided with Thanksgiving, President Ronald Reagan thanked his counterparts in tribal nations by acknowledging “the friendship, cooperation, and brotherhood” the early settlers received from the first nation people. It wasn’t until 1990, however, that a week turned into a month, when President George H.W. Bush honored the “invaluable” contributions of Native Americans by dedicating the entire month of November to Native American Heritage.
If observance of a month dedicated to First Nation people slipped your mind at all, you are not alone. The motion, first introduced in the House of Representatives by the American-Samoa Congressional Delegate Eni Faleomavaega in 1989, rarely gets much national attention these days beyond a one-time proclamation by each President that takes office. Granted, all of them are very well written and intriguing reads for anyone interested in presidential records and archives, but what drew my attention this year was the private sector, in the form of global sporting brand Nike. Starting in 2000, Nike has been supporting an initiative they call the N7, which led to the creation of the N7 fund. Since 2009, N7 has helped bring goods, sport, and physically active lifestyles to native tribes and people through $5.6 million in grants to 243 communities and organizations, reaching more than 420,000 youth. While certainly good for public image, it has evolved into a truly inspiring campaign that has most recently enlisted young native designers and some of the biggest names in art and athletics to promote physical activity and social awareness of our amazing land’s original inhabitants.
On November 7th, N7 dropped a fresh line of shoes and apparel with the help of global music artist Taboo Nawasha (Black Eyed Peas) and Ashton Locklear of the USA Gymnastics squad. The 2018 line was designed by their recently appointed Lead Designer for the project Tracie Jackson, who when recently prompted by Twitter what she was most proud of accomplishing in 2018, the 24-year-old intern turned project lead gladly shared her work on the 2018 N7 collection, including the seriously special edition Russell Westbrook Why Not Zer0.1 N7 basketball shoes.
Westbrook wasn’t the first Nike athlete to embrace N7. In 2012, now Golden State Warriors MVP Kevin Durant participated when he was still a member of Oklahoma City’s Thunder. However, what sets this year’s edition apart besides Westbrook’s recent MVP and fashion icon status, is how it coincided with OKC’s new commemorative “City” jersey, which embraced a similar theme and design. Nike is taking this project deep into college territory as well, partnering with universities from Florida to Washington state, offering exposure so intrinsically placed in the fabric of our modern culture, it’s difficult to think of another instance that comes close.
Since dedicating a major chunk of my undergrad studies to native culture and politics, I’ve been sensitive to controversial subjects like that of ‘cultural appropriation’ of indigenous culture. Nike has reached a place in N7 that has done well to avoid this by embracing the spirit of modern day Native Americans who are still here and fighting for everything from social and environmental justice to Olympic gold. It’s all the more fitting that in tandem with N7’s 2018 release, New Mexico and Kansas elected the first ever Native American women to the United States House of Representatives, one of which is a former professional MMA fighter.
So as Thanksgiving and Native American Heritage Month 2018 winds down, and as the American identity itself seems to hang in ideological balance, let us remember we can always look back to those who lived here before us for guidance and support. As the Joint Resolution of the 101st Congress states, we should be reminded that “certain concepts such as freedom of speech, the separation of powers, and the balance of power within government” were Native societal designs, which “influenced the formulation of the government of the United States of America.” Similarly, we should know that Native American people and heritage are not simply confined to history, but are still among us today – standing tall – adding words to the story and slowly, but surely getting the representation they need and deserve.