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Canku Ota
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(Many Paths)
An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America
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Oklahoma Kiowas Feel Pride With Their Man At The World Cup
by Tristan Ahtone - Aljazeera America

Chris Wondolowski is the first tribally enrolled Native American to play on the US team

Carnegie, OK. — If a visitor strolled into the Kiowa Elders Center early Sunday evening, the hall looked much like it normally does. A buffalo head hung over the fireplace. Deer, moose and elk antlers were mounted over doorways. Old sepia-toned photos of famous Kiowa chiefs, such as Lone Wolf and Satanta, men who tangled with the likes of Custer and Sheridan, hung on the wall.

But that visitor would also see nearly 100 members of this formerly nomadic tribe, faces painted with stripes of red, white and blue, waving American flags and watching a large flat-screen TV, cheering on the United States team in a match against Portugal in a stadium in Manaus, Brazil.

The reason for this soccer fever was personal. Enrolled Kiowa tribal member Chris Wondolowski is a forward on the U.S. team — the first tribally enrolled Native American to participate at the World Cup.

For soccer fans, the climactic moment in that game happened in the final agonizing minutes of injury time, when Portugal scored and leveled the match at 2-2. But for the people at the Kiowa World Cup watching party, the real excitement happened before then.

Tribal members leaned forward in their folding chairs in the final 10 minutes of the match, some wearing T-shirts with Wondolowski's likeness, listening intently, then cheering when one of the ESPN announcers intoned, "Fairy tale for Chris Wondolowski, another player who's really paid his dues in the game. The San Jose Earthquakes goal scorer plays in the World Cup."

A shot of Wondolowski appeared onscreen as he prepared to enter the game, and the room erupted in cheers and applause.

"A half Native American and a member — Chris Wondolowski — of the Kiowa tribe," the commentator continued. "He is on for the USA, a born goal scorer."

Despite the mispronunciation of Kiowa, which rhymes with "Iowa" (it's not KEY-o-wa), another round of applause and cheers. His fairy tale is theirs as well.

Among nearly 12,000 Kiowa tribal members, most of whom have never held much interest in soccer, 31-year-old Wondolowski is an outlier. However, his rise on the international stage has brought a newfound passion for the sport among his fellow tribal members and others in Indian Country.

"I'm a fluent Kiowa speaker. I've been all over the world. But I don't understand soccer," said Dorothy Whitehorse-Delaune, Wondolowski's 82-year-old grandmother. "But for somebody that didn't speak English until they were 6 and then having someone playing on an international team, and he's from your family? It's just overwhelming. Look how far we've come."

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  Canku Ota is a free Newsletter celebrating Native America, its traditions and accomplishments . We do not provide subscriber or visitor names to anyone. Some articles presented in Canku Ota may contain copyright material. We have received appropriate permissions for republishing any articles. Material appearing here is distributed without profit or monetary gain to those who have expressed an interest. This is in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.  
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