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: A local exhibit showcases the historic role of sports in the lives of American Indians. Producer Christina Estes and photographer Kyle Mounce take us to the heard museum in Phoenix.
Narrator: Christina Estes
Called beautiful games, American Indian sport and art.

CHRISTINA ESTES: It begins with the early games of skill, archery, and darts.

MARCUS MONENERKIT: They go back for hundreds of years.

CHRISTINA ESTES: The exhibit features more than 150 works and artifacts, about 50 are on loan.

MARCUS MONENERKIT: Quite a treasure.

CHRISTINA ESTES: A treasure compiled by Marcus Monenerkit. We have four Olympic medals.

CHRISTINA ESTES: Including this one, when Billy mills became the first and only American to win gold in the 10,000 meter race.

MARCUS MONENERKIT: We have his shoes. We have the box that it came in. Track suit, yeah.

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. He's a 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.

CHRINSTINA ESTES: He couldn't get every piece he wanted, but getting the boxing trunks and robe worn was pretty easy. I stopped by his brother-in-law's house.

MARCUS MONENERKIT: I said George, where is that robe at? I want to see that again. He brought it out. Can I borrow that, George? It's very glitzy, it has a lot of sequence on it.

CHRISTINA ESTES: He sees an artistic element to sports --

MARCUS MONENERKIT: Philosophical discussion about can sports be art? When you think about it, it is a performance. It takes an audience. 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 --

CHRISTINA ESTES: More formal play came into the 19th century when team sports, like baseball, and football, 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, is also 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.

CHRINSTINA ESTES: Across the aisle, a display to women who played basketball. This team was invited to attend the St. Louis world's fair to participate in the Indian school exhibit hall.

MARCUS MONENERKIT: The exhibits that 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: You were 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's overlaid, you know, so layers of an individual, you know, you do have that assimilation and that connection to European culture, the larger American culture, but you also have that tradition, the imagery on the shoes is a jingle dress dancer and a woman playing baseball or softball, and, so, I really took a liking to that. I thought it really showed Indian people living in two worlds, and I think we get a lot of that sometimes, you know. We have irreverence and a commitment to a tradition, but we have to participate in the contemporary culture.

CHRISTINA ESTES: In 1954, when Evelyn eaglespeaker was crowned queen at a popular Canadian rodeo called the Calgary Stampede, there was much debate over what she would wear. Her mother had made a beaded buckskin dress, past queens had donned western attire. Eaglespeaker chose both.

TED SIMONS: The "beautiful games" exhibit runs through November. You can get more information at the museum's web site,

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Tuesday on "Arizona Horizon", we'll hear about the legacy of a long-time Arizona education lobbyist. And a local author will talk about what it takes to self-publish a book. That's at 5:30 and 10:00 on the next "Arizona Horizon."

TED SIMONS: That is it for now. I'm TED SIMONS. Thank you for joining us. You have a great evening. MM

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

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