Native American Athletes Take Center Stage in Red Lake Nation Summer Camps

Native American Athletes Take Center Stage in Red Lake Nation Summer Camps

FOR ORIGINAL ARTICLE by Austin Monteith of Grand Forks Herald HERE

RED LAKE — A number of Native American athletes and coaches from around the country have flocked to Red Lake Nation this summer.

A series of sports camps are being held in conjunction with Oshkiimaajitahdah, a community organization in Redby also known as Tribal Family Assistance Plan.

The program is run by Dan Ninham, a Bemidji Middle School physical education teacher, and his wife, Red Lake Middle School Principal Susan Ninham.

This week’s volleyball camp is just the latest that is meant to promote fitness and being a healthy member of the community by using a variety of sports, including indigenous ones.

“We encourage people to be active,” Dan Ninham said. “We encourage people to live a good life by being active and healthy.”

The program has brought in Native Americans from around the country, not only to coach, but to also serve as role models, Susan Ninham said.

“I think it’s important that our children are able to identify with people that look like them, sound like them, come from the same background as they do, (and) to have some influence on their decisions about their future in middle school, high school and into postsecondary,” she said. “Having that role model or being able to identify with someone that has done that and has been successful with that can be a strong influence for our kids.”

Leading the volleyball camps this week are a pair of former NCAA Division I volleyball players from the Navajo Nation in Arizona. Naomi Whitehair played at the University of Texas-El Paso while Bradley Nash played for New Mexico State.

“We encourage them to tell their stories to let kids know that they’re coming from the same place as the Red Lake Nation,” Dan Ninham said. “They chose their path to go on to college and to participate in athletics and to graduate. We don’t just encourage our kids to go to college. We encourage them to stay there and graduate and to come back to their communities. They’re all coming back to their communities and doing great things and they come to our community and do great things as well.”

Dan Ninham found Whitehair and Nash from doing research online of Native American athletes and recruited them to participate in the camp. The two grew up together in the Navajo Nation town of Kayenta, Ariz.

“I think it’s important that we serve as role models for these kids because, being Native American, they think there’s a certain standard that we’re not going to go to school and not going to do great things,” Whitehair said. “But these kids need to know that there are resources that are there to help them and it is possible for them to go to school, get an education, play a collegiate sport and have those opportunities that we have as Division I athletes. And I think it’s important for them to see us interact with them and have that one-on-one time with them.”

“I hope they just realize that they can do things, they can get off the rez, they can go to college, they can play sports in college,” Nash added. “Just the attitude that they can do anything and they’re not stuck or anything.”

The volleyball camp continues today and Thursday in Red Lake and Ponemah. Sessions run throughout the day at no charge. For more information, contact Dan Ninham at 218-368-6430 or


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