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(Many Paths)
An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America
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OKC Thunder Mascot 'Rumble' Represents During Native American Night
by Neely Tsoodle - Cheyenne & Arapaho Public Relations

It was Native American Heritage Night at the Oklahoma City Thunder game November 16 when the Thunder hosted the Houston Rockets. The highlight of the evening was the beloved bison mascot 'Rumble.' His name became a roar when he came out sporting a traditional Native American ribbon shirt as part of the month long observance of Native American Heritage Month.

Chris Smith (Kiowa/Creek) who works for the Fox Sport Oklahoma broadcast crew kicked off some social media chatter about what Rumble should do or wear out of respect for his Native American friends. It didn't take long for the post to go wild with comments. Immediately getting the big 'no' was the war bonnet headdress reference. Many suggested the idea of Rumble proudly wearing a 'ribbon shirt.' Ribbon shirts are a standard traditional clothing article worn by Native American men socially and for traditional dances and ceremonies.

That ball got bouncing and two Native females stepped up to the plate to make Rumble's ribbon shirt. Gloria Tate (Kiowa/Comanche) and Mary Helen Deer (Kiowa/Creek) took on the challenge and measured Rumble's burly physique and came up with a masterpiece in Thunder fashion.

"I was personally nervous of the thought," said Tate. "I was worried about people liking it or saying something negative about it." Deer was conscientious of the magnitude of being seen nationally. "There have been so many people who have had mascot mishaps and, for the most part, it's been an insult. The Thunder organization had the sensitivity to inquire before they made any moves," Deer said.

Oh, the public liked it all right! Rumble erupted on social media, his Facebook page alone got more likes, comments and shares than any other post he's ever had except for one: a recent worldwide social media experiment, called the 'mannequin challenge.'

"We wanted to celebrate Native American Heritage Night appropriately and by incorporating Native American traditions. Rumble's ribbon shirt was custom-created by members of the Kiowa, Creek and Comanche tribes, and we feel it resonated well with our fans and the Native American community," said Rumble. He also posted on his Facebook site that he was proud to represent all tribes with his custom ribbon shirt.

And custom it is with a little added flare. "We had to think about it quick and hard and put it out of our mind the traditional way some and think of it as stage and showbiz or production," said Deer. Deer and Tate made sure the color scheme of the fabric was a perfect match to the Thunder while, at the same time, paying close attention to original Native artistry.

Tate carries on the talents of her maternal grandmother who was a master seamstress. She had to laugh about the once-in-a lifetime experience. "You always see Rumble running around, working the crowd. We had to find material that had some flexibility to it. We also wanted to see the ribbons flying behind him. He did wonderful and respectful.", said Tate. Both Tate and Deer said they cannot thank the Thunder organization enough for the thoughtfulness they gave the Native American community for taking the sensitivity of Indian Mascots seriously. For Brian Byrnes, Thunder senior vice president of Sales and Marketing, the decision to recognize Native culture was simple: "We have always felt a deep connection with the Native American community, and we saw November, which is National Native American Heritage Month, as the perfect opportunity to celebrate and incorporate Native American traditions into our game programming. Last night, the National Anthem was performed by a member of the Comanche Nation, while the colors were presented by the Seminole Nation Honor Guard; our mascot Rumble the Bison wore a custom ribbon shirt as a tribute to all tribes in the region; and the Fancy Dancers, a dance troupe representing 39 tribes from across Oklahoma, brought traditional Native American song and dance to our fans at Chesapeake Arena."

While Native mascots have been a hotly debated topic for decades, on this November night, Tate explained, Rumble and his ribbon shirt seemed to have struck the right chord. "We always hope to gain respect … with his custom ribbon shirt, all I could do was scream and keep yelling and oh my goshing! It was an awesome sight."

Rumble spent the first portion of the game in his ribbon shirt. Then the Native American Fancy Dance Troupe performed at halftime. Thunder won over the Houston Rockets 105 to 103.

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