is the first tribally enrolled Native American to play on the US
Carnegie, OK. If a visitor strolled into the Kiowa Elders
Center early Sunday evening, the hall looked much like it normally
does. A buffalo head hung over the fireplace. Deer, moose and elk
antlers were mounted over doorways. Old sepia-toned photos of famous
Kiowa chiefs, such as Lone Wolf and Satanta, men who tangled with
the likes of Custer and Sheridan, hung on the wall.
But that visitor would also see nearly 100 members of this formerly
nomadic tribe, faces painted with stripes of red, white and blue,
waving American flags and watching a large flat-screen TV, cheering
on the United States team in a match against Portugal in a stadium
in Manaus, Brazil.
The reason for this soccer fever was personal. Enrolled Kiowa
tribal member Chris Wondolowski is a forward on the U.S. team
the first tribally enrolled Native American to participate at the
For soccer fans, the climactic moment in that game happened
in the final agonizing minutes of injury time, when Portugal scored
and leveled the match at 2-2. But for the people at the Kiowa World
Cup watching party, the real excitement happened before then.
members leaned forward in their folding chairs in the final 10 minutes
of the match, some wearing T-shirts with Wondolowski's likeness,
listening intently, then cheering when one of the ESPN announcers
intoned, "Fairy tale for Chris Wondolowski, another player who's
really paid his dues in the game. The San Jose Earthquakes goal
scorer plays in the World Cup."
A shot of Wondolowski appeared onscreen as he prepared to enter
the game, and the room erupted in cheers and applause.
"A half Native American and a member Chris Wondolowski
of the Kiowa tribe," the commentator continued. "He is on
for the USA, a born goal scorer."
Despite the mispronunciation of Kiowa, which rhymes with "Iowa"
(it's not KEY-o-wa), another round of applause and cheers. His fairy
tale is theirs as well.
Among nearly 12,000 Kiowa tribal members, most of whom have
never held much interest in soccer, 31-year-old Wondolowski is an
outlier. However, his rise on the international stage has brought
a newfound passion for the sport among his fellow tribal members
and others in Indian Country.
"I'm a fluent Kiowa speaker. I've been all over the world. But
I don't understand soccer," said Dorothy Whitehorse-Delaune, Wondolowski's
82-year-old grandmother. "But for somebody that didn't speak English
until they were 6 and then having someone playing on an international
team, and he's from your family? It's just overwhelming. Look how
far we've come."