When Bayshore High School fell to Bradenton Christian during an early season volleyball match, Jasmine Youngthunder was 1,500 miles away trying to show solidarity with her fellow Native Americans fighting to be heard in a country that often silences their voices.
Since August, Native Americans from the Standing Rock Indian Reservation have protested the Bakken Pipeline, which is also known as the Dakota Access Pipeline, in North Dakota as part of the ReZpect Our Water movement. Reporters and protestors have been arrested. Politicians, such as Bernie Sanders, have shown support. The United Nations has been addressed. Although Youngthunder isn’t from the Sioux tribe in North Dakota, other tribes have passed resolutions in support of the protests. Those protests found an unlikely link to Manatee County.
“We have such unique, eclectic nationalities,” Bruins head coach Nancy Cothron said.
Youngthunder, who is entering her final games with Bayshore after moving to Bradenton before last season to train as a basketball player at IMG Academy, has spent most of the season living with sophomore teammate Madeline Olson after Youngthunder’s parents returned home to Black River Falls, Wis., in part to assist with the Bakken pipeline protests in North Dakota.
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The unlikely tie between the Dakota Access Pipeline and the Bruins, who begin the Class 6A-District 11 tournament at Jan C. Brady Gymnasium on Tuesday, has been an educational experience for Youngthunder’s teammates. When Youngthunder returned home for a feast in September, her Bayshore teammates posed with a sign reading “We stand for Standing Rock” with the hashtag #NoDAP, standing for “No Dakota Access Pipeline.” Youngthunder missed the Bruins’ Sept. 12 loss to Bradenton Christian as she took part in a feast in support of the Standing Rock Indian Reservation protestors.
“They’re asking for the spirits to help,” Youngthunder said.
The feasts stand in line with Ho-Chunk tradition. When Youngthunder or her sister fly overseas, her parents perform a blessing over a pail of water in prayer to the water spirit for safe travel.
The feast Youngthunder traveled to Wisconsin for in September has been typical for the Ho-Chunk during the ReZpect Our Water protests. The men set up a wigwam to house the 20 or so attendants to the feast. Inside the lodge, the Ho-Chunk bless water and food asking the spirits to help the protestors in North Dakota.
Youngthunder’s father, Daniel Youngthunder, is a Ho-Chunk Nation clan leader and from his home in Wisconsin has been a leadership figure as his nation has supported the protests in North Dakota. He regularly hosts feasts with dozens of fellow Ho-Chunks and organizes trips to deliver food, water and support to protestors on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, more than 500 miles away.
Youngthunder no longer plays basketball at IMG and remained in the area to play through her final season at Bayshore. At the end of the fall semester, Youngthunder will probably return to Black River Falls unless she catches on with a club volleyball team in Florida.
Even if this is the end for Youngthunder as a Bruin, her presence has had an impact on a program seeking its fourth appearance in the regional playoffs. She is among the team leaders in almost every category and on senior night it was obvious how important she was, as junior varsity players wrote notes the graduating seniors.
“They view her as an idol,” Cothron said. “They want to be like her, so hopefully that work ethic carries over. I wish she went to school here because then they would see it.”
8A-11: Lakewood Ranch at Braden River, 7 p.m.
8A-11: Palmetto at Sarasota, 7 p.m.
6A-11: St. Petersburg Lakewood at Southeast, 7 p.m.
3A-5: Bradenton Christian vs. Imagine School of North Port (at Sarasota Christian), 7 p.m.
Winners advance to Tuesday’s semifinals.