Many American Indians traveled across the country to be at the Atlanta Dream’s Native American Night to see Shoni Schimmel play.
ATLANTA — Shoni Schimmel had a dream to play in the WNBA and now plays for the Atlanta Dream. If there is one thing to remember is it all started with a dream. Shoni’s Dream.
Early in the WNBA season, here is how Shoni’s dream is shaping up so far.
On Friday night, the final score was Atlanta Dream 80-Seattle Storm 69. Atlanta with the win. Shoni Schimmel (23) with two points; one-3 shot; four rebounds and one assist. In just her first four games of her rookie year, Schimmel already holds the record for most assists in the WNBA with 37 assists under her belt.
The May 30th game was the first in a series of “Dream Heritage Fridays.” The Atlanta Dream will be hosting heritage nights on Fridays, throughout the season on their home to celebrate all diverse team members on the Dream Team.
Friday night was Native American Heritage night, and it was a success. Some 2,000 lucky fans received a turquoise “Schimmel #23” bracelet that inspired by her jewelry she wore during the 2014 WNBA Draft.
Looking into the crowd you could see many Natives from around the region and others that had traveled from around the country to watch the “Umatilla Thrilla” in action. Over 100 tribal members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians from North Carolina were present. They had loaded up on their own vehicles to drive all the way to Atlanta, Georgia. They had purchased tickets for a fundraiser to attend the game from a local middle-school that sold Atlanta Dream tickets, for the Cherokee Central Schools.
Native Pride was on display at the Philips Arena during half-time.
During the half-time show the Red Road Dance Group and drum group Elk Soldier put on an amazing performance filled with honor songs and beautifully presented various American Indian dance categories from the powwow circuit. This was the second time they had all performed together, the last time was March 3, 2014 for Shoni Schimmel’s senior night, and it was Louisville Cardinals Native American Heritage night that evening the total attendance 22,163 people, and over Native people from 40 states were present.
I had the opportunity to speak with Glenn Drapeau, a member of the Ihanktonwan Nokota (Yankton Sioux), from Lake Andes, South Dakota, one of the singers from the Elk Soldier Drum group:
How does it feel to perform for the second time for Shoni, but this time for her Professional Career?
Glenn: “Shoni is our champion! She is a respected leader for our young people, and she has a beautiful way of representing our people. It’s a beautiful thing to see that! Everybody loves her! She has a huge leadership role and accepted it, she has fulfilled that role and responsibility well.”
The game carried on with Atlanta gaining the win! Shoni has proven you take the Girl from the Rez, but you can’t take the Rez out of the girl.
Shoni Speaks about her Dream
After the game was over, I was able to catch up with Shoni, and interview her.
So what did you think of Native American Heritage Night?
Shoni: “It’s awesome especially to see the Natives out here! Everybody is crazy about it, and loving it! I feel very special to have Native American Heritage Night!”
What did you think about the “Shoni Schimmel” bracelets?
Shoni: “It was surprising that they actually made them! They just came out, and my parents, plus everyone back home is calling to ask, “Hey could you get us some Shoni bracelets?” It’s a big hit especially here tonight because everybody that came were the only ones to get them.”
How was the transition from being one of the few female Native athletes at a college level to playing in the WNBA?
Shoni: “It really hasn’t hit me yet! I still feel like a college kid, and I’m still trying to adjust. It’s not a bad thing – having free time during the day and not worry about school. Now it’s like you get to relax it feels like: ‘Wow!’”
You grew up playing, “Rez-Ball”, and went onto playing College ball, now you’re playing in the WNBA! How has the competition changed?
Shoni: “These women are huge, tougher, faster, and smarter regardless of who you play everybody’s going to come play that night! There’s no easy game.”
This year in the WNBA Draft you were in the first round, and the #8 pick for the Atlanta Dream. Were you hoping to go to Seattle?
Shoni: It would’ve been nice, you know just to be able to be at home. But at the same time it’s an opportunity! This has been a great fit for me, and Coach Cooper knows what he’s doing. For him to draft me and know what he’s doing—I trust him. I’m happy I came here!
Being drafted into the WNBA how did it feel to be one the first female Native American to be selected the first round?
Shoni: “It’s special like you said being Native American not many today have done it, and have that opportunity. To being one of the first is special.”
What would be any advice you’d give to Native Youth today?
Shoni: “Go out there live your dreams! Regardless of what it may be— embrace it and don’t let anything hold you back.”
Shoni Schimmel, and along with the many other Native college athletes are setting the bar for success so far that the sky is the limit. Showing many of our young people today that you can leave the rez, graduate from college, and become successful.
Shoni is proving to be a nice draw for teams with close proximity to American Indians. Once drafted by the Atlanta Dream for her rookie year, ticket sales for the away games in Phoenix and Seattle ticket sales are nearly sold out. Her, “Schimmel 23,” Dream jersey has been sold out. Many that attended the May 30, 2014 was hoping to purchase her jersey, but it wasn’t in stock.
Photographs by Patti Tanewasha