Indigenous Bowl Provides Showcase for Promising Native Athletes – InForum

MINNEAPOLIS — Student athletes representing dozens of tribes played Sunday at US Bank Stadium in the fifth annual Indigenous Bowl. The game is part of an effort to highlight athletic talent from schools that might otherwise escape the attention of college recruiters.

The players — all high school seniors — split into two teams, identified by red and white jerseys, and took the field after a coin toss from U.S. Senator Tina Smith, D-Minn. Hundreds of friends and family cheered them on from the stands.

Shortly after Warroad High School’s Gaabi Boucha walked off the field at halftime, he said it was exciting to play on NFL turf.

“It’s stunning, honestly. I came out to warm up and it really took my breath away just to look up and see the stands rising as high as the sky,” he said.

Boucha is Ojibwe and plays running back and middle linebacker. He was one of 75 athletes, including three from Minnesota, selected for the Indigenous Bowl.

Bennae Calac is executive director of the 7G Foundation — the Native American advocacy group that sponsors the event. She says past Indigenous bowlers have caught the eye of college coaches, including at the University of Minnesota Morris.

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High school football players from opposing teams shake hands before the fifth annual Indigenous Bowl on Sunday, December 11, 2022 at US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.

Matt Sepic / MPR News

“A lot of our athletes played at different colleges: (Division) II, DIII, I think we had a DI,” she said. “We helped continue their dreams, get their education and keep playing football.”

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She said the effort to partner with the NFL began in 2017 to provide mentoring and skill development for promising local athletes. Almost 500 students submitted applications this year.

Calac – who is with the Pauma Band of the Luiseño Indians in Southern California – said it was an arduous process to narrow the list down to 75 participants. That is because the high schools in Indian country are generally small and many do not have the resources to allow athletes to submit videos of themselves in action.

“So we have to call the individual schools, we have to locate them, but we’re doing it because we think it’s possible,” Calac said.

Lyle Uses Arrow Jr. drove from the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota to watch the game. He said his nephew – Adam Eagle Shield – found out about the Indigenous Bowl on social media and is thrilled to be able to play on the Vikings’ home field.

“It’s something we never dreamed of. We’ve always talked about coming here for the games, but we never got around to it because we’re so busy,” he said. “But this is something, a real eye opener, and it’s great to be here.”

This is the second year the Vikings are hosting the Indigenous Bowl. Calac said she hopes to expand the event to include regional competitions to ensure more talented homegrown high school football players get the opportunities they deserve.

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