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What about an All Nations Football League?



It is possible, that by the start of next football season, twelve teams with at least 80% Lakota players on their roster, will form their own All Nations Football League. If some technical details can be worked out, the league would still be administered by the South Dakota High School Activities Association, but would have its own championship, and not participate in the championship weekend games at the Dakota Dome.

For some years high school sports have been changing. Across the nation, it has turned into a big money business, and many of the training programs and camps perfected to service that boon, have filtered down to the state level. East River has taken full advantage, and the reservations have been unable to match this rise in training and preparation excellence. Coupled with a basketball first mentality, that prompts some of the best athletes to not play football, for fear they will get injured, reservations struggle to not only fill out rosters, but to find the coaching staffs and training facilities necessary to stay competitive.

I was told by Custer Coach Russ Bailey what outstanding athletes Pine Ridge had, after his Wildcats had just beaten the Thorpes. The reservation talent is there, but it is unrefined, undisciplined, and the programs are generally poorly run in every aspect. Teams bicker and curse at each other on the sidelines and the coaches appear to have little concern or control over this behavior. There are exceptions, schools like Todd County and Red Cloud, and it is no surprise they play winning football and make the play offs.

But one of the main reasons why these schools want their own league was not mentioned in any media, but will be mentioned here. For decades, Lakota ball clubs have been targeted by biased, bigoted officials the SDHSAA won’t acknowledge exist, and so do nothing to curtail or correct. In other states, like Minnesota, the officials are monitored to minimize this misbehavior, but not South Dakota.

While watching a game between Red Cloud and Lead/ Deadwood, a grandparent of one of the Lead/Deadwood players introduced himself and expressed concern about the biased officiating. I thought he meant the officials were favoring Red Cloud, but he said, no, they are throwing too many flags on the Indian team. He wanted to know what I thought about that. Any honest hearted person with no skin in the game can see the officials are biased against an Indian team, and that this bias is so ingrained and socially protected by denial and dismissal, it cannot change easily or speedily.

This is the main reason the new league matters. Because it gives these kids, many for the first time in their athletic lives, a chance to compete and not worry about referee bias. A couple years back, Tyrone Pourier, playing for Little Wound, was so frustrated by the racist official he was struggling with, he kicked a Gatorade bottle high into the stands. He apologized profusely to any people he might have doused, but it pains me to see our kids forced to process this hate at such a young age, and to see that hate protected by, and projected from, the very people who are supposed to be the pillars of integrity.

Even if all the officials were non-Indian, in the All Nations league, both teams would be Indian, so officials would have no reason to be biased against either. When allowed to compete in a league where they feel honored and respected for who they are, Indian kids will respond positively, they will participate, and they will excel.

Assertions that these kids are afraid to play powerhouse teams like Winner and Bon Homme are just not true. Many of them come from difficult lives where football is often the least dangerous thing they participate in. I see that warrior mentality in the way they approach the game of basketball and it would be no different for football, if the programs they played in had the pride and prestige hoops does.

The proposed league would be divided into East and West divisions. East: Crow Creek, Flandreau Indian, Lower Brule, McLaughlin, St. Francis and Tiospa Zina. West: Cheyenne- Eagle Butte, Crazy Horse, Little Wound, Pine Ridge, Red Cloud and Takini. Noticeably absent is Todd County. The league would play nineman.

Another issue looming is the start of the six-man league next season. Crazy Horse and Takini might be better off opting for participation in the six-man, as they will probably never be competitive in the All Nations league. Oelrichs, too, having no football team at present, could field a team for the All Nations, or get one ready for six-man.

Much to consider, but while we consider, let us not fail to discuss the fourhundred pound gorilla in the room, because nothing has alienated tribes, or galvanized support for this new league, like decades of unremitting abuse from biased officiating, no matter what propriety prompts from people in board meetings.

(James Giago Davies is an enrolled member of the Oglala Lakota tribe. He can be reached at skindiesel@

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