Shoni and Jude Schimmel Visit Red Lake
2013 NCAA Final Four American Indian Basketball Stars Spend the Day
The buzz on the Rez for nearly a month, was the anticipated visit from Shoni & Jude Schimmel with youth of Red Lake Nation on Saturday, September 21, 2013. The sisters are Division 1 basketball players for the Louisville Cardinals, and runners-up for the 2013 NCAA National Championship.
The two sisters, from the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation in Oregon, take pride in being ambassadors of "rez ball," a style of playing that's won them fans across America and high prestige in Indian Country. The sisters feel that prestige brings with it a responsibility to do their best as "role models" and ambassadors for Indian Country.
"True inspiration is motivated by helping others," says Jude. Accordingly, this past summer the sisters have been visiting Indian Reservations around the country, and would spent the entire day in the Red Lake community on the eve of the Autumnal Equinox.
"They're OUR inspiration," said Shoni of the young people she meets. "You talk about us being an inspiration for other people, but we're inspired by that little girl out there. She's looking up to us and she wants to be us. I'm out there saying, 'Be better than us.'"
University of Louisville senior Shoni and junior Jude, say fellow Native Americans travel hundreds of miles just to see them play, and they enjoy meeting their fans after games. "We know how much they drove,” Shoni said. “We know how exciting it is for them, but it’s also an honor and a privilege for us.”
Shoni, 21, is the first enrolled member of Oregon’s Umatilla Tribe to win a college basketball scholarship. Jude, 19, followed her older sister to college and basketball fame.
The Shimmel family is the subject of an inspiring film called "Off the Rez, the brainchild of producer and friend of the family, Nelson Hernandez. "It's not available on Netflix or anywhere," said Hernandez in an interview. "We tried to get the rights to play it on Lakeland Public TV or even local access station Upstream TV, but I couldn't get the rights. It's owned by TLC (the learning channel), who aired it before the NCAA Women's final four but they haven't released it yet to the general public."
Hernandez' personal copy of the 90 minute documentary, however, was available for viewing during the late afternoon at the Middle School mini-theater. Hernandez voiced appreciation for the person who coughed up most of the money for the film, Kelly Rippa of "Regis and Kelly" fame, while adding "but she does not have the rights either."
Arrival at RLHS
The parking lot outside Red Lake High School was packed long before the expected arrival of Shoni and Jude Shimmel, basketball stars of Louisville and luminaries in Indian Country.
Due to the sisters late arrival at Red Lake, (midnight the night before) events began more than an hour later than the scheduled 9 a.m. start. Folks didn't seem to mind though on this particular Saturday morn, as both boys and girls hit the gym floor shooting baskets and excitedly visiting among themselves. A bus picked up Ponemah youth at the Boys and Girls club at 8 am returning them at 4.
The event began with a invocation and drum followed by a presentation by Hernandez, who showed a highlight reel from the film "Off the Rez" to an overflow crowd of mostly young people.
Off the Rez
"Off the Rez, released in 2011, is the story of a Native American family in Oregon that leaves the reservation in pursuit of the American dream on behalf of one of their eight children, a 16 year-old girl (Shoni) who is one of the best high school basketball players in the country," began Hernandez. "Four generations of strong Native American women from the Umatilla Nation struggle together to preserve their traditions with the unforgiving world of big-time American high school sports."
After the film, words were heard from both Shoni and Jude, and later from their parents Ceci Moses and Rick Shimmel. Hernandez then grabbed the microphone and headed into the crowd to field questions. "When is your birthday?" Shoni answered "May 4." "What are your dreams?" "To play in the WNBA", replied Shoni. "What team would you like to play for?" And to thunderous applause, shrieks, and whistles, Shoni replied…"well, I like the Lynx."
Several gifts were then presented to the parents of Shoni and Jude by Red Lake Chairman Floyd Jourdain, Jr. Included was a Red Lake Nation flag, the book "Red Lake Nation" by Charles Brill, wild rice and more.
Next came autographs and photo ops with Shoni and Jude. The young women managed to keep a smile for over two and a half hours of signing photos, t-shirts, and basketballs. They'd sign memorabilia for a dozen or so folk, then pose for photos with the fans just signed, then repeat the process again and again.
A scheduled fun run/walk was cancelled due to the late start and a late entry to the agenda, and interview with co-host of Native Report, Tadd Johnson of Bois Forte.
Native Report, now in its 9th Season, is produced by WDSE Public television in Duluth and seen on public TV stations in 26 states. Johnson also co-hosts the show with Red Lake member Stacey Thunder, who was away on location filming for the soon to be released movie, "Jingle Dress". Watch for it!
As noted earlier, getting in near midnight the night before, the sisters were quite tired after the speeches, autograph signing, photos, and TV interview. You could see it in their eyes, they were beat. They did however, take time to have photographs taken with the Warriors girls basketball team.
After visiting with the team for five or ten minutes, the girls were off to Seven Clans hotel for a much needed rest and shower. Soon they would repeat most of the days events, for the larger community, at the Humanities center from 6 to 9 pm.
In an interview with the media, includeing Public TV's Native Report, Shoni and Jude sat down and answered a few questions. Shoni and Jude’s parents, Rich and Ceci, joined in to describe their family life on the reservation, and the strategies they use to spur their eight children to achieve their goals. Shoni is a communications major at Louisville, Jude is majoring in sociology. The Shimmel's home is at Mission City and the Confederated Tribes Umatilla Indian Reservation, Oregon.
"Live Your Dream"
"Keep going, don't give up, believe," advised Shoni. "This whole thing goes way beyond basketball, it's not so much about us, it's about a dream. The Rez will always be there, you can always come back, get out and see the world. You have to pave the path for the next generation."
"It's fun to run off the court and hug your sister, not many people get to share that. It's a family thing, I feel a responsibility to represent American Indians, we know we are being watched."
A highlight moment in Shoni's short playing career was playing for Team USA and playing in Russia. "It seems like a dream, but you can do it too, be resilient and work hard."
"Reservation ball were the best years of our lives. It started with our parents who are and were athletic. My older brother Shay also plays."
"We get a lot of support from Indian people, not all players have that kind of support. Before it was fun, it's still fun, but it's also a lot more serious."
"We have to mix basketball with academics, you get decent grades or you don't play. But balance is a key part of life, this is what we are told by the elders. Grades are important, you have to set priorities. Don't give up. Go after what you want. There’s always going to be ups and downs. If there’s something negative, try to find something positive in it."
Cecilee (Ceci) Moses
"As parents we are have a responsibility to help our children find what they love and then support that. Parents sacrifice their time and money, it's called being a parent and it pays off. Both of us are basketball coaches. The Rez is more like family, we help each other, no one starves and that's being human, caring and loving. We're blessed."
On Being "Ambassadors"
"What got us going was the film Off the Rez, it got us out to be ambassadors. But we think of ourselves as normal people, we've got five more kids at home." (The sisters, and older brother Shay, make eight children)
"I see a great potential in Indian youth leadership for the future. I encourage young Red Lakers to go out into the world, get an education and bring their skills back home to the reservation one day. We love being Native American. We’re so proud."
Advice for Parents
"Indians want to be around Indians, there's nothing wrong with that. But we also need to get out, we can always go back to the Rez. We are education oriented. Encourage your children to go off, then tell them if you do come back you can share what you have learned. Love your kids. It takes passion, find out what your kids are passionate about and then you help them reach the next level."
"Don't Give Up"
"Where we came from is no different from you," said Shimmel. "Growing up on the rez, there’s nothing wrong with that. Don’t give up. Believe in yourself. It goes way beyond basketball."
"It’s not IF I graduate from high school; it’s WHEN I graduate from high school," he said. "What are you doing to prepare yourself for college. As young people, have a goal. Have a plan. Know it’s going to be hard work."
On the Cardinals
"Not only did the Cardinals earn a berth in the Final Four, Rich said they had to work harder than Baylor to reach that opportunity. The same goes for pursuing education, he said.
Synopsis: Off the Rez from the Learning Channel
Written and Directed by Jonathan Hock
Shoni Schimmel was a high-school junior living on the Umatilla Indian Reservation in Oregon, the star basketball player on the local team. Then Shoni's mother, Ceci Moses, took a job coaching a high school team in Portland, and against the wishes of her own mother and grandmother on the "Rez," Ceci brought Shoni and her seven other children with her. Now, Shoni's senior year has become the most important year of their lives as mother and daughter fight to prove that Native American women can become champions off the Rez.
Certain families, through talent, timing, character and conviction, reach a point where they can change the course of their lives forever. If they succeed, they can become an example of pride and inspiration to their People while opening the eyes of all Americans to their story. Shoni and her family have that opportunity today, and the film of their lives promises to be truly unforgettable.
World Premiere on April 26, 2011 at the Tribeca Film Festival. Tribeca Film Guide listing
National broadcast premiere Saturday May 14, 2011 on TLC.
Before you watch the NCAA women's national championship game starring the Schimmel Sisters and their Louisville Cardinals squad Tuesday, April 9 at 8:30 p.m./ET on ESPN, catch a special re-airing of Off the Rez, the acclaimed documentary about the Schimmels. The Discovery Fit & Health channel will air Off the Rez at 6 p.m./ET.
Early Film Review
Saturday's TLC documentary, Off the Rez, is a coming-of-age story: a drama about generations, sports, sweat, winning, losing, sacrifice, triumph and love. It's a lot to get through in 86 minutes.
Jonathan Hock's film follows the rise of Native American high school basketball star Shoni Schimmel. Her mother, Cecilee Moses, is also her coach. They moved off the Umatilla Indian Reservation in eastern Oregon and headed to Portland to maximize Schimmel's chances of success at a new school.
And succeed she did. In 2010, Schimmel was selected to the Women's Basketball Coaches Association All-American Team and recruited by the University of Louisville Cardinals. She just finished her freshman year — averaging 16 points a game.
Back in Portland, Moses still coaches Schimmel's old team, the Franklin High School Quakers. She tells Weekend Edition Saturday host Scott Simon she knew her daughter had talent from the first basketball tournament — when Schimmel was just 4 years old.
"I swear to God, that's the first time I knew something," she says. "This girl was gifted, because they went in, and they went to the championship, and they stomped on Shoni — I mean, they didn't beat them bad, but they beat her. And for her, that was so devastating."
"Ever since then, I've seen that fire in that girl's eyes," Moses says, "She lost, but I'm not kidding you, ever since then, she's had that drive to just become better."
Schimmel says it's hard to describe what she loves about the game. "Just having the ball in my hand, and being able to just go out there and have fun," she says. "I just love playing basketball."
The family's move off the reservation wasn't just for Schimmel; Moses wanted to prove she could coach. There was another goal, too.
"It was also a move where I could teach not just my kids, but other Native Americans that are doing the right things, to get where they want to get," Moses says. "You can get your dreams, and you can have dreams, and you can pursue your dreams."
That kind of pressure isn't lost on Schimmel, but she says she doesn't let it get to her. "I mean, I'm just playing basketball and going to school like a normal kid," she says. "Doing what I love doesn't really come with pressure."
Being a role model for other Native Americans is important to Schimmel, though. Not many of them make it off the reservation, she says, and it's up to her to take advantage of the opportunities she's been given. "I do it definitely for my family, but also the other Native American people."
As a mother, Moses says, coaching your kids is fun, but there are rules. She made a deal: "This is a job; we're going to be professional. I'm the coach; you're the player. If you want to become unprofessional and turn into the son or the daughter role, then the mother comes out and that's not pretty."
It seems to be a good deal all around; come fall, Moses will be sending a second daughter to Louisville. Schimmel's sister Jude will be the next to prove that Native Americans can succeed "off the rez."