The Lori Piestewa National Native American games has grown for the past 13 years, with approximately 100 tribes across the United States and Canada represented. The top athletes are honored by having a bronze, silver or gold medal placed around their neck by the Piestewa family.
During the invasion of Iraq in 2003, Lori Piestewa was the first Native American woman in history to be killed in combat. Shortly thereafter, Nees came up with the idea to honor her with the games. He says the key to future growth is to keep the family involved. “If you lose the Piestewa family, the event doesn’t go on.”
“It’s a special week for a lot of people, a lot of kids,” senior director Gary Nees says.
This July 8-10 and 15-17, the Olympic-like competition continues in six Arizona venues: the Salt River Indian Community, Scottsdale, Fort McDowell, Fountain Hills, Mesa and Phoenix.
Last year,more than 3,000 athletes attended and competed in basketball, baseball, softball, volleyball, track, cross-country, archery and wrestling sporting events. Participants in categories ranging from youth to senior will compete.
As the event continues to gain popularity, organizers add something new each year. “Last year, we had an opening ceremonies and a health and wellness fair,” Nees says. “And this year, we’ve added a Native art display, Native music and we’ll have food trucks. We’ve also added a new hotel partner to make the hotels closer.
“Increasing the number of sports has happened gradually,” Nees says. “We listened to the population — they said, Hey, how come there’s no wrestling? We looked into it and they were right. We’ve seen tremendous success for the growth of the wrestling tournament consistently every year.”
Nees says that due to its non-profit status, the event is looking to increase exposure and he acknowledges there’s room to grow. “We try our best to promote the event. We get teams from Canada, Mexico, the Bahamas and all over the country.