Decline of American Indians in Sports

Donna Newashe McAllister, granddaughter of Emma Newashe and grandniece of William Newashe, posed a question that has remained unanswered for some time. Your opinions are appreciated as they may shine some light on this issue. So, please comment. Note that a link has been provided for an article written by Emma Newashe that was published in Carlisle’s literary journal.

I have long been interested in the decline of American Indian athletes in every sport at every level

My academic background is in early childhood development. I was a producing potter at 15 who then married early and now intermittently work in sculpture and occasionally write – thus my interest in my grandmother…as almost all of her children are artistic…and some of the grandchildren.  Fortunately I was athletic enough to join in whatever sport was around…and having been on the golf course since I was barely old enough to walk…I have watched the world of sports as it has changed both locally and nationally.

Leadership has long been a topic of discussion among my professional friends and colleagues especially with regard to the American Indian.  I have asked everyone from Billy Mills to PhD specialists in education and Native American Studies to speculate on this phenomenon.  NO ONE has every given me a good answer…and very few even had a response…including Mills.

My father took me with him to the golf course as well as the softball games where he played with both Indian and non-Indian men regularly as soon as I could walk….so I have always been around the culture that I call sports – a microcosm of the world.  Also my nationally known art/pottery instructor in high school (the same high school that graduated the Olympian John Smith) was a nationally known wrestling coach, came from a wrestling family…and some of his wrestlers, my classmates, competed at the state and national level.  He left coaching when he went on to teach art at the college level and continue as a producing artist. 

During my second year of college a friend, an American Indian professor, asked me to name 5 Indian leaders – this was not in the classroom.  I looked at the wall for a length of time and then said, “I can’t.”  He then asked me to name five black leaders…and I rattled off 10-12…because I had been exposed to that community at an early age.  Here in Oklahoma…although it is not as highly profiled as in other areas…there has been an extraordinary amount of activity/success in the black community over an extended period of time. 

I spent the rest of the week pondering this concept…and the American Indian names I did come up with had TALENT…but were not leaders.  They were revered…but not listened to when it came to social issues – issues that could mold aspects of the larger society.  Because of my personal experiences and knowledge this subject has always interested me. 

But it is the decline of American Indians in sports at the local and national levels that has truly fascinated me as I look at sports decade by decade.  The lack of substantive response or even response when I have posed this question is even more interesting to me.  The black athlete has markedly increased both locally and nationally if one looks back and compares the two races…within the context of competition and sports.  Indians I have been around love sports, love to play, are very competitive…and in my lifetime would even create their own games, tournaments.

In my junior yearat OU [The University of Oklahoma]…I chose to write a paper on leadership in the history department for a man well renowned for his knowledge of the American Indian…and examine the comparisons in what I chose to loosely call “cultures”…and the lack of leadership in the American Indian culture as I saw it.  In the last two census rolls Oklahoma has been 1st and 2nd in the nation with the highest population of American Indians…so the numbers are there.  The possibilities in this state should be impacted by that alone.

Most team sports require leaders and followers…and in my observations these qualities are then taken into the world at large when one leaves sports.  Perhaps that is an over generalization…but not too far a stretch…and thus my connection with the two qualities. 

The instruction at Carlisle, however socially controversial, seemed to include [a broad range of extracurricular] activities.  Is it the broader education that included these activities that made these men exceptional? 

Donna Newashe McAllister

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5 Responses to “Decline of American Indians in Sports”

  1. sports » Blog Archive » Decline of American Indians in Sports Says:

    […] admin . Excerpt: Fortunately I was athletic enough to join in whatever sport was around…and having been on the golf course since I was barely old enough to walk…I have watched the world of sports as it has changed both locally and nationally. … […]

  2. American Indian advocate Says:

    It is very sad to see, especially since traditionally American Indians have such a strong athletic tradition. One that I have been happy to note is the Navajo Nation Elite Runners group – they are working hard and trying to make a bid for the 2012 Summer Olympics. An article on them was published here: Navajo Nation Elite Runners

  3. Rebecca Dean Says:

    I am the great granddaughter of Bill Newashe, and daughter of Suzanne Newashe Underwood. Please contact me if you would like information from my side of the family. I am also a member of the Sac & Fox tribe.

    I have 2 brothers and 1 sister – amazingly, we have all been reunited; our mother was Suzanne Newashe. She is the granddaughter of Bill Newashe. She passed away several years ago and was buried in Stroud, Oklahoma. I would like information on my mother, Suzanne, if anyone out there has it.

    • Donna McAlllister Says:

      I was in contact for several years with Rosanne Todd before she passed away. Please tell me what you know about my great uncle Bill…and help me learn more about his sister Emma, my grandmother. I remember him very well…thank you

  4. Teresa Wilson Says:

    Apparently my brother, Richard Harwell, is the son of Suzanne Underwood. He was given up for adoption through DHS. My parents adopted him so I have a ‘little’ brother. I’m 5’4″ almost and he is over 6′. He’s anxious to contact/meet members of his biological family. Suzanne and George Underwood were listed on his adoption papers. She was listed as a Johnson. Showed they weren’t married at the time. You can contact Richard at Lynn Armstrong has helped lead the research for his biological family. She’s our cousin.

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