Arizona Giving and Leading: Beautiful Games at Heard Museum

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See an exhibit at the Heard Museum that focuses on American Indians and sports. More than 100 works and artifacts reveal tribal contributions to many contemporary sports, particularly in lacrosse. The exhibit features more than 100 works and artifacts.

Ted Simons: Tonight's edition of Arizona giving and leading looks at a new exhibit on the historic and modern role of sports in the lives of American Indians. Producer Christina Estes, and photographer Kyle Mounce take us to the heard museum in Phoenix.

Called beautiful games, American Indian sport and art.

Christina Estes: It begins with the early games of skill like archery and darts.

Marcus Monenerkit: They go back for hundreds of years.

Exhibit features more than 150 works and artifacts, about 50 on loan.

Marcus Monenerkit: Quite a treasure.

Christina Estes: A treasure compiled by assistant curator Marcus Monenerkit.

Marcus Monenerkit: We actually have four Olympic medals in the exhibit.

Christina Estes: Including this one, 1964 Olympics, Billy Mills became the first and only American to win gold in the 10,000 meter race.

Marcus Monenerkit: We have the shoes, the box it came in, the track suit.

Christina Estes: Monenerkit had to convince mills to share some of his most cherished possessions.

Marcus Monenerkit: I talked to Billy before and I know that he gets a lot of requests.

Global personality. You know, I think I had a good pitch, beautiful games and how much sports and running in particular mean to American Indians, how it is incorporated into their ceremony and livelihood.

Christina Estes: He could not get every piece he wanted, but getting the boxing trunks and robe was pretty easy. He just stopped by his brother-in-law's house.

Marcus Monenerkit: George, where is that robe at? I want to see that again. He brought it out. Can I borrow that, George? You know, it's very glitzy and, you know, it has a lot of sequins on it.

Christina Estes: He sees an artistic element to sports.

Marcus Monenerkit: The philosophical discussions about sports -- the purists say, no, it is not art. But when you think about it it is performance. It takes an audience. There is -- the action, innovation, all of the things that do make good artwork makes a good athlete, makes a good competition.

Christina Estes: Contemporary sports like lacrosse have their roots in tribal games.

Marcus Monenerkit: There were rules, but they weren't written down. It was all kind of oral traditions and how the game was played, but there weren't time periods, you know. There weren't boundaries that we know today.

Christina Estes: More formal play came in the late 19th century when team sports like baseball and football were introduced to Indian men in the boarding school system.

Marcus Monenerkit: There were a lot of challenges that the early athletes faced. Racially.

Christina Estes: Perhaps the most recognizable native American athlete, Jim Thorpe, often referred to as one of the world's greatest. Olympian in track and field, professional baseball and football player, Thorpe was also the first president of a group that evolved into the NFL.

Marcus Monenerkit: Enshrined at the pro football hall of fame.

Christina Estes: Across the aisle, display devoted to women who played basketball. 1904, this team was invited to attend the St. Louis world's fair to participate in the Indian's school exhibit hall.

Marcus Monenerkit: The exhibits they would be a part of, they would be ironing or sewing.

Christina Estes: They didn't just demonstrate their domestic skills, the team also displayed their athletic expertise. During exhibition games, they defeated every opponent.

Marcus Monenerkit: So, you are beating them at their own game. It meant a lot.

Christina Estes: So does having the Sun Devils jersey. The first woman at ASU to have her number retired. When she left the Navajo reservation to play for ASU, tribal members made the TREK and filled the stands at her games. That connection to community is highlighted throughout the exhibit.

Marcus Monenerkit: It is overlaid, you know, layers of an individual. You do have that assimilation and that connection to European culture, the larger American culture, but you also have that tradition, imagery, a woman playing baseball or softball. I really took a liking to that. I thought it really showed -- and people living in two worlds and I think we get a lot of that sometimes, you know. We have -- a commitment to a tradition, but we have to participate in the contemporary culture.

Christina Estes: In 1954, when Eaglespeaker was crowned queen at a popular rodeo, there was much debate over what she would wear. Her mother made a beaded buckskin dress. Eaglespeaker chose both.

Ted Simons: The beautiful games exhibit runs through November. More information at the museum's web site, heard.org. That is it for now. I'm Ted Simons. Thank you so much for joining us. You have a great evening.

"Arizona Horizon" is made possible by contributions from the friends of eight, members of your Arizona PBS station. Thank you.

Marcus Monenerkit: Assistant Curator, Heard Museum

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