PORTLAND, Ore. – The Iroquois invented lacrosse and their team currently
ranks fourth behind the United States, Canada and Australia, noted Oren
Lyons Sr., player and History professor at the University of Buffalo.
Further, according to Abenaki skier Billy the Kid, American Indians are
credited with inventing the roots of 10 Olympic sports.
Why, then, has the International Olympic Committee (IOC) turned a cold
shoulder to the idea of tribal members joining the games under the banner
of their sovereign nations?
Youth in the Umatilla tribe may live far from the mountains, but if Stew
Young, Tulalip and newly-formed Native American Ski Team member, has his
way, they’ll soon be trooping over to Mt. Hood’s Ski Bowl, where owners
have offered training and enough equipment to help Umatilla and Warm
Springs youngsters start skiing.
The Native American Ski Team has its sights set on the Olympics, even
though training competitors and convincing the IOC that since tribes are
indeed sovereign nations, they should be permitted to represent their
homelands, stand between the current situation and the goal.
Young, though, is a champion speed skier. At age 50, he is headed back out
on the World Cup Tour after ranking as the fastest U.S. veteran skier in 1998. At 143 miles per hour, Young cranked in as the third fastest in the
world. With those kinds of jets under his heels, getting the troops geared
up and the bigwigs to listen to reason must seem like small potatoes.
And then there’s the matter of Young’s very impressive buddies. In February
he participated in a ski and music festival in Veysonnaz, Switzerland,
where France’s Princess Caroline Murat convened a circle of influential and
culturally-savvy Europeans who support American Indians’ participation as
sovereign nations in the Olympic Games.
“Indian country so appreciates how Princess Caroline and her friends are
fighting to open the Olympic doors for our youth,” said Young. He went on
to explain that “to be able to dream and realistically have a chance to
compete in future Olympic Games” is a goal capable of motivating young
tribal people like nothing else has.
Skier Suzy Chaffee, who joined Young in Switzerland, added that “Native
youth can finally get the health, appreciation, encouragement and sponsors”
they need to compete with pride at the international level.
Good things take time, of course, and Young knows this. Before going
abroad, the super-skier donned his shiny red ski suit and with his
eight-foot skis in hand, joined promoters at the Seattle SnowSports Expo.
There, 10 ski areas from Oregon to Canada to Alaska pledged their support
for tribal members interested in coming on board for winter sports.
Expo producers donated gear to help Northwest Indian College launch its
Native Ski Program at Washington’s Mt. Baker. A ski area close to the
Tulalip reservation, Stevens Pass, invited tribal members to ski and
snowboard on its slopes. And Timberline, on Oregon’s Mt. Hood, put its hat
in the ring with the wish that an American Indian team will be ready to
compete at the ski area’s Golden Rose Celebrity Race come spring.
Other areas that support the dream include Crystal Mountain, Summit at
Snoqualmie, Mission Ridge and Alaska’s Alyeska, as well as Canada’s
Whistler, Sun Peaks and Apex.
So it is that the world’s third-fastest veteran skier is helping lead the
kids back home on a fast track down the slopes and into international
competition. And while it’s still a long way from getting the IOC to
approve the idea of Indians skiing under their sovereign nations’ banners,
the first steps in the long haul are underway.