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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America



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Tribal Gifts to Olympics


by Native Voices Foundation


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"While celebrating the Greeks for their greatest gift to peace, joy and health, in history - THE OLYMPIC GAMES... And the French for reviving the Olympics in 1896, I hope the world also reflects on the contributions of the First Americans and other Indigenous Peoples," said Olympic skier Suzy Chaffee. "Most people are not aware of the roots of ten Olympic sports that the American Indians invented: Soccer (kicking a ball for days), ice and field hockey, canoeing, kayaking, overhand swimming stroke, baseball, basketball, tobogganing (sled sports), as well as the three day Marathon, for spiritual and messenger purposes, like their South American brothers and sisters.

"The People" of Turtle Island (America's 500 Nations) were the first to invent team sports, including baseball, basketball, as well as lacrosse. "While the 'civilized' world played war games, our tribal men, women and children were settling disputes playing team sports with long bats and lacrosse sticks," said Grand Master Lacrosse Champion, Oren Lyons, Chief of the Onondaga Nation of the Iroquois Confederacy. "The French Jesuits arriving in the 1500's, renamed the Iroquois (medicine) game, 'Lacrosse' (like Bishop's Crosier), yet our sports are so old that no one knows how far back they go. Baseball, which evolved from the tribal bat and ball, or long ball, is still played with an eight person team," said Lyons, who was inducted into the International Scholar Athletes Hall of Fame in 2003. Louis Sokalexis, a Penobscot, was considered by many the greatest baseball player (Cleveland) in 1898.

"Basketball evolved from an ancient Mayan-Inca-Aztec game and lacrosse. The South American tribes first threw or kicked a rubber ball (they invented) through a vertical hoop in an outdoor court," said Vaspra. As a way to keep his lacrosse team in shape and interested indoors, during harsh winters, YMCA coach James Naismith in 1891, took away the sticks, got an inflatable rubber ball, tied two peach "baskets" to the upper track of the gymnasium, and used the similar free flowing moves as lacrosse, according to Thomas Vennum, retired head ethnologist at Washington's Smithsonian.

Woody Vaspra, President of the World Council of Elders, offered these insights on the gifts of earth's oldest tribes, gathered from a tapestry of oral traditions. "Over 100,000 years ago the tribal people of Lemuria in the Pacific (predating Atlantis), and Africa first threw rocks for survival then sport, which evolved into the shot put. Spear-throwing became the javelin, and then bow and arrow became universally adopted as the art of archery.

The Middle Eastern tribes, led by the Persians, Babylonians, Egyptians - pictographs in Luxor Temple dated 3,000 BC - developed the art of fencing as sport. The Oriental tribes, led by the Koreans in 2333 B.C., invented martial arts - mastery was required of national leaders. Though not yet an Olympic sport, the Hawaiians gave us surfing, which was revived by Gold Medallist swimmer, Duke Kahanamoku, after it had been outlawed by missionaries. He was recently celebrated on a U.S. postage stamp," said Vaspra, a Hawaiian professional baseball and football player. Duke's friend, Sac and Fox Jim Thorpe, the only man to win the Olympic Decathlon and Pentathlon, is revered by many as "The Greatest All Round Athlete in History."

"The polar tribes, spanning from Lapland to Siberia and Alaska invented and shared the roots of most of our favorite Winter Olympic sports, thanks to a common language in a world without boundaries. Developed first for survival, then for fun and competition, the Sami are credited for pioneering skiing and skating 5,000 years ago, and the Inuits for kayaking and their unique Winter Games. The polar tribes, as well as the First Nations of Canada and American Indian Nations, developed snowshoeing, cross country, canoeing, and tobogganing," said Lyons.

Chaffee and her fellow Olympians of Native Voices Foundation (NVF), an eco partnership with US Tribal leaders and UN Eco Award winners, applauds the International Olympic Committee's "Be a Champion for the Environment," which recommends we include Indigenous Peoples in the Games to enhance their sustainability. It is championed by IOC President Jacques Rogge and Prince Albert of Monaco, a Lakota-Sioux adoptee, and NVF Advisor.

Bottom line: What would life be like without our favorite sports? "We can thank these Indigenous sports heroes by celebrating all our tribal ancestors for these priceless gifts at these Greek Olympics. And by remembering their reverence for Mother Earth on whom we play, our children's children may continue to enjoy Nature's playgrounds," agree NVF Co-chairs, Ed Hall (Arikara-Hidatsu), a leading Indian advocate in Washington D.C., and Chaffee. "The best way is by giving back sports opportunities to our youth," said Tex Hall, President of the National Congress of American Indians, a former teacher and collegiate basketball hall of famer on the NVF board.

"Indian People hope this is a time for the mending of the sacred hoop of all Nations," said Lakota Nicholas Black Elk, a vision he received that would soon take place. "Everything flows more harmoniously when it's in a circle," said Vaspra. The U.S. "Discovery Channel" recently revealed a 30,000 year genetic link between the Greeks and some American Tribes. Added the Elders President, "Therefore it is not surprising that both cultures share the same body, mind and spirit sports philosophy, and why most tribal sports and the Ancient Greek Olympics were founded as spiritual celebrations."

Contact: Native Voices Foundation, 970-922-5406

Native Voices Foundation

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