Activism Is Most Courageous
The American poet E.E. Cummings once wrote, "It takes courage
to grow up and become who you really are."
American athletes Morning Rose Tobey (Assiniboine Sioux),
a sophomore for the University of Nevada Wolfpack women's
basketball team and Jaye Two Bears (Standing Rock Sioux),
an incoming freshman for the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee
Panthers basketball team, helped Bronson Koenig (Ho-Chunk
Nation) with his youth basketball camp at the Standing Rock
Sioux reservation today. (Also pictured is Clint Parks, trainer)
Those words describe the journey of Bronson Koenig, a senior
guard at Wisconsin and this year's winner of the USBWA's Most Courageous
Last summer, Koenig closely examined who he really was. He's
a Native American member of the Ho-Chunk tribe.
While working out with a friend in Los Angeles, Koenig kept
hearing reports and watching videos about the Native Americans who
were protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock, N.D.
The issue struck a nerve.
"It's two things. One is human rights and the other is the drinking
water," Koenig said. "It's all Lakota land. They're putting the
pipeline through Lakota land. I think the U.S. has made 566 treaties
with the Native Americans and not honored one of them. With this
issue, they're not honoring two or three of the treaties.
"And the concerns about the impact on the drinking water. The
water brings people life. It brings Mother Earth life. Native Americans
have a spiritual connection to Mother Earth. We don't own a certain
piece of land. We're here to be caretakers of the land and Mother
Koenig saw the images coming out of Standing Rock and wondered
why there wasn't more outrage.
"I wanted to raise awareness," Koenig said. "I thought it would
be a great experience to go out there and be with all those people.
"But I also thought I had no chance to get there because of
Then Koenig's brother, Miles, said he planned on going. A weekend
opened up for Bronson in September. Koenig's training partner, Clint
Parks, was on board, too.
"We all drove to Standing Rock together," Koenig said.
Koenig was not prepared for what he saw at Standing Rock. The
camps were far removed from the protests, but the number of people
went into the thousands. Entire families were living in large encampments.
With Parks' help, Koenig planned to put on a basketball clinic
for the Native American children at Standing Rock. But even before
the clinic, Koenig got an inkling of just how important his appearance
The three arrived right at dusk. The protest sites were 30 minutes
away. They drove through the reservation and spotted some kids shooting
at a rickety hoop on an outdoor court.
Parks wanted to ask the kids if they were going to the basketball
clinic the next day.
"Yeah," said one boy. "If we can get a ride."
Then Parks pointed to Koenig and asked the boys if they knew
who he was.
"Bronson, he plays for Wisconsin," the boy said.
"I could barely make their faces out and they knew who I was,"
Koenig said recalling his first interaction with the people at Standing
The response to Bronson's clinic was so great that the reservation's
indoor gym wasn't big enough. So he added an outdoor clinic with
a makeshift hoop on a court of patted down grass.
A classmate who was interning with the Players Tribune put him
in touch with a writer there. That story sparked more stories of
the star player of Native American descent getting involved in a
controversial social issue.
"I didn't really know exactly what I was getting myself into,"
Koenig said. "I didn't realize my going there would create such
a buzz. I didn't know it was that big a deal."
Koenig has experienced some negative reaction.
"Honestly, people are cowards," he said. "I didn't get a lot
of direct negative feedback, but I'd read or one of my friends would
show me the negative comments on the articles written about me.
There were a lot. Just ignorant comments. 'Stupid liberal.' 'Go
drink your firewater.' 'How are you getting to the protest? Hope
you're riding a horse.' Stupid stuff like that."
But any negativity has been over-shadowed by the positive response.