We've all heard the phrase by now "representation matters", but what does that really mean? For me, I am an Indigenous woman. I grew up in Maine, a predominantly white state where as a young person playing sports, it was very clear that there were not a lot of other youth at the time who looked like me. In classrooms there were not a lot of other classmates with the same interest in "the Navajo" and "Native American Studies". This was in the 80's and early 90's. Before internet and global connection existed and you only really knew the people in your neighborhood or your family who visited from out of state. There was no way to research "how to learn Navajo" or "Dine' traditions" except for whatever was presented in the school library or Encyclopedia Britannica.
Knowing I was Indigenous was somewhat challenging because I didn't have anyone within my immediate community to connect with, to ask questions to, to share experiences with. My mother was adopted off the Dine reservation at 4, and raised by white parents in southern California. She shared what she could, but she was also removed from her own culture and didn't have that experience. I definitely felt a little like an outsider in my community, but often couldn't put a finger on what it was that didn't connect for me.
As an adult, I found roller derby in my mid-30's. By this time I was the mother of 4, working full time, graduating from school and trying to find something to engage with that let me connect back to my physical self. My children were into karate and they were invited to perform at the halftime show for our local league, Maine Roller Derby. I sat there in awe. I came to watch my kids, but gained so much more that day. It was definitely intimidating to look at such a wonderfully physical sport, but it looked like so much fun. I knew how to skate, I could probably figure out the game pretty easily, but there was a point where I was hesitant to join because again there wasn't really anyone who looks like me, has the same experience as me and understands what it's like to be me.
As I prepared for tryouts and learned more about the roller derby world, I started watching the high level teams being broadcast. They looked like fierce athletes, similar builds and predominantly white. But then I saw Mick Swagger. On the best team in the world, a force to be reckoned with and built like me, with high cheekbones and dark brown eyes like me, with native skin like me. And Mick was amazing. Fast, fierce and devastating. I had to connect with them. I had to share that there was another Dine' athlete on the East Coast, that I was so excited to see another native athlete playing this sport. That I was even more excited to try it because I saw someone like me being successful at such a high level. I reached out and we connected. We shared experiences, we learned from each other, and from that partnership a movement was born-Team Indigenous Roller Derby.
Our vision was a team where other Indigenous athletes could thrive, share experiences, feel seen and heard. Where they were represented 100% of the time and could use that platform to show others what is possible. Now we have realized that vision and continue to grow and inspire others to claim their space in the derby community. We don't have to be defined by geography or borders. We can embrace our communities wherever they exist, with whomever we connect with. This has allowed us to develop some incredible partnerships and friendships along the way.
One of the things I love the most about roller derby is the accessibility and rad-ness of the most elite in our sport. When I started I was able to find a connection and collaboration with Mick. An athlete who I admired both for their incredible skills on the track, but also for the amazing off-track work they did building up others through language. Words matter and representation matters. When we can wear the words of what we want to embody we tap into a powerful part of ourselves.
Strong Athletic recognizes the importance of that and has touched so many communities with powerful words. As we talked about how to reach more of our community and share the words that make us feel powerful, our team all agreed it seemed a natural fit to reach out to Smarty, aka Nadia, and Strong Athletic to develop something special. We are so grateful for this collaboration, humbled to have this platform and thankful we have the honor of being here to play this game.
Strong Athletic is helping Jewish Roller Derby and Team Indigenous raise money for skaters and support staff going to the We Are Nation Game. $10 from every shirt sold will go directly to the teams. Check out the three different designs here.
The photo above is of Jumpy McGee with Team Indigenous Rising at RollerCon 2019. Jumpy is the skater kneeling in the front on the far right.