Native American basketball star Shoni Schimmel speaks at Student Union

Atlanta Dream guard Shoni Schimmel speaks at the Student Union Theater in Storrs, Connecticut on Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2015. (Olivia Stenger/The Daily Campus)

As a part of Native American Heritage Month, Shoni Schimmel spoke at the University of Connecticut’s Student Union Theater on Tuesday night, regarding her experiences as a Native American in the WNBA.

Schimmel was raised on the Umatilla Reservation in Mission, Oregon. She started the evening by reciting some of the ignorant questions she was asked in high school, such as, “Do you guys live in teepees?”

Schimmel described her reservation as a place where “everybody knew each other,” but outside the reservation and in high school she faced discrimination from classmates and teachers alike. When applying to colleges, Schimmel received a remarkably disparaging rejection letter.

“It said, ‘Go back to your reservation,’” she explained.

Schimmel, currently plays for the Atlanta Dream and was featured in a documentary “Off the Rez.” After attending high school in Oregon, she attended college in Louisville, Kentucky, and was drafted into the WNBA when she graduated in 2014. While playing college basketball at Louisville, her sister Jude was among her teammates.

Eventually, President Obama choseJude as a moderator for the 2015 White House Tribal Nations Conference, where she was seated close to the President as he spoke.

 “It’s not about who has the nicest car,” Schimmel said, as she gave a background to the more modest mindsets held within her reservation.

Schimmel suggested that injustice towards Native Americans easily slips through the minds of many people, as one of the nuances of race relations in America. However, the general populace is slowly but surely becoming more mindful of the struggles of Native Americans.

An example of this is the documentary “Reel Injun,” which describes the degrading portrayals of Native Americans in film. There is also a significant movement protesting sports teams’ use of Native American mascots, such as the Cleveland Indians and Washington Redskins.

Regarding the controversy over the Washington Redskins mascot, Schimmel said she disagreed with its use. She noted that the use of such terminology is unusual and egregious within the context of other NFL team names and American professional sports altogether.


Max Engel is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at max.engel@uconn.edu.