University of Nevada-Reno athlete honored for tribal, school achievement

By Terry Dempsey
Reno, Nevada (AP) March 2011

In basketball, success is usually celebrated with the ceremonial cutting down of the net to mark a championship.

But on a recent weekend at the University of Nevada, Reno’s Lawlor Events Center, success on and off the court was celebrated through a traditional Native American gifting ceremony seldom, if ever, seen in a college basketball arena.

Tahnee Robinson, a senior guard on the UNR women’s basketball team, received a Pendleton blanket from the Pyramid Lake Veteran’s and Warriors Association in honor of her community service with Native Americans in northern Nevada.

“It’s a tradition,” said Michelle McCauley, university intertribal higher education coordinator. “If someone is given one, then it means that they’ve done something very special. It’s a very high honor.”

The ceremony was a part of a celebration of local Native Americans in conjunction with the Feb. 26 Wolf Pack women’s game against the New Mexico State University Aggies.

Finding camaraderie can be difficult for Native American students at UNR. There are only 173 self-identified Native American students out of 16,681 students at the school, according to McCauley.

McCauley she hopes that events such as the ceremony held Saturday can help invigorate Native American students and forge links with local Native American communities.

“It is a challenge finding community because many of the students don’t know anything about their songs, traditions, or languages,” McCauley said. “I’ve heard the term of ‘walking in two worlds’ and that’s what Native Americans at UNR have to deal with: adaptation.”

The pre-game ceremony featured a performance of the “Shoshone Flag Song” by Gale Hanson of Bishop, Calif. The Pyramid Lake Veteran’s and Warriors Association, also known as “Namu Tookwasa,” performed an honor guard presentation.

“‘Namu Tookwasu’ means people of the black shirts,” McCauley said. “It’s what the Paiutes called the cavalry when they first came to the area with the settlers.”

Native American Student Organization President Chelsea O’Daye also performed the “The Star Spangled Banner” prior to the start of the basketball game.

During halftime, a Native American hoop dancer performed on the court and the group Echo Sky performed pow-wow music.

For each game attendee, Wolf Pack head coach Jane Albright donated $1 to Nike N7, a program that provides funding to get American Indian and Aboriginal communities in North America involved in sports.

Nike produces special N7 products and the proceeds from sales fund grants and sports programs in Native American communities, according to the Nike N7 website.

The first 500 children to come to the marketing table received a Nike N7 T-shirt and the team wore apparel from the Nike N7 collection during the game, Albright said.

Nevada is the only NCAA Division I-A women’s team that has a partnership with N7, she added.

Robinson was given the Pendleton blanket on the court before the game, but a more formal ceremony was held afterwards.

Albright said the event to honor Native Americans started because of a relationship the UNR basketball team has forged with the local Native American community through Robinson.

Robinson is a Shoshone tribe member from Fort Washakie, Wyo., and is one of the few Native Americans competing in NCAA basketball.

“Our team is very diverse, and we’re interested in the progress of all of our players,” Albright said. “We learn from all of their unique experiences what they have had to offer.”

Robinson, a general studies major, transferred to UNR from Sheridan College in Wyoming in 2009 and was named Western Athletic Conference Newcomer of the Year and first team all-WAC last season, according to the Nevada Athletics website. She also is a current semi-finalist for the Sullivan Award for the 2010-2011 season.

Robinson has reached out to younger Native Americans, talking about her experiences playing in college basketball and about her experiences with alcohol addiction, which affects the American Indian population at disproportionate rates, Albright said.

“The fact that she is a Division I athlete and that you have to stay in shape to compete at that level has been very important to her,” Albright said. “She no longer drinks and tries to share her experiences with that.”