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Singers, drums and turquoise uniforms honor Native American Heritage Month at Zags game

Nov. 7, 2022 Updated Mon., Nov. 7, 2022 at 9:47 p.m.

Before the Gonzaga men’s basketball game could even start, the McCarthey Athletic Center erupted with applause on Monday night as 17-year-old Emmarose Sullivan, a descendant of the Kalispel Tribe, belted out the final notes of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

The Cusick High School student, dressed in a ribbon skirt made by her grandmother and mother, kicked off the Zags game with a celebration of Native American Heritage Month in partnership with Nike’s N7 program. A few years back she opened a game for the Zags when she performed in Salish.

“It’s nerve-wracking because you just see all their eyes staring at you,” said Sullivan, whose Kalispel name is, fittingly, Blue Bird Sings. But, she said, “It’s important to be an example for young children on the reservation to show there’s something past just the rez.”

Halftime featured a drum circle and performance from the Kalispel Tribe’s Frog Island Singers.

The Zags donned custom turquoise uniforms Monday for their game against the North Florida Ospreys in honor of the Native American Heritage Month. The color is symbolic of friendship in Native American cultures.

“Fellowship and friendship, that’s what sport is. In its purest form it is fellowship,” said Devon Thomas, associate athletic director at Gonzaga. “There is a reason we shake hands at the end of ball games. It’s the acknowledgment of the competitive spirit, but it’s fellowship.”

Nike’s N7 program is focused on empowering Indigenous youth in North America to participate in athletics. The N7 title comes from Native American wisdom of the Seven Generations, according to a news release from Gonzaga.

This is the fourth N7 partnership at Gonzaga since 2015.

“In one way or the other, the university has been in relationships with the tribal nations and communities throughout our history,” said Gonzaga President Thayne McCulloh at Monday night’s game. “When Nike created the opportunity, it seemed like a really natural thing. It very much combined with our own desire to illuminate and underscore the importance of those relationships.”

The partnership is really focused on empowering youth, he said.

“That’s very much in alignment with our mission as a university.”

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