The Lakota People’s Law Project likes to recognize positive members of the Native American community who not only strive for success but also work to shed light on the travails and injustices Indians face in the United States.
University of Wisconsin basketball player Bronson Koenig of the Ho-Chunk Nation is a positive athletic role model for Native American youth. The lead guard has made a point of using his platform for good–connecting with younger players and speaking out about the outcome disparities Natives face.
According to the National Collegiate Athletic Association, Koenig, then a freshman, was one of fourteen American Indian men playing college basketball last season. Any trace of Native representation in national sports carries the potential to inspire a slew of prospective players who may have never seen their culture represented on such a high-profile national stage.
Before playing last year’s season finale in Nebraska, Koenig took the time to speak to basketball players from the Winnebago tribe about his life and sports career. He encouraged them to embrace their studies and avoid falling into the traps of substance abuse. Further, he motivated them to find the courage to set their aspirations beyond the boundaries of the reservation.
Furthermore, as an athlete Koenig spoke out against the use of Native Americans as mascots for sports teams, recently criticizing the Washington Redskins for continuing to use a racial epithet as their team name.
“That term comes from when we were skinned and our flesh was red,” Koenig told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel recently. “I don’t see how that is honoring us in any way. Is our skin red? Would it be OK for the Kansas City Negroes or the Blackskins? That’s not OK at all.”
The budding basketball star said that Native Americans also suffer from decreased visibility, with their plight receiving little to no press from major media outlets.
“I feel sometimes like we are lowest of the low, among the minorities. And when a Native American kid sees that growing up and sees the disrespect, it lowers their self-esteem and put them in a lower place in society. It’s just not a good feeling,”
Koenig attended holiday powwows as a child and spent many afternoons at the Ho-Chunk youth and learning center in his hometown of La Crosse, Wisconsin. His parents saw immense value in keeping him connected to his heritage.
It is for this reason that Lakota People’s Law Project fights to have states honor the Indian Child Welfare Act that attempts to keep Native children immersed in their culture, history and language.
Koenig vividly remembers the contrast between the stories he heard from his family members and the white washed textbook versions he learned about in Native history. When it came to common perceptions of Native Americans, the status quo was obviously flawed, but Koenig never thought he would be in a position of such influence.
It is refreshing to hear a strong Native voice in the highly publicized realm of college sports. Bronson Koenig stands as an excellent role model for the next generation of Native American children and we hope he continues to use his influence wisely.