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Hoop dreams and Native American culture to share the court during a 3-on-3 tournament

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MACY, Neb. -- To Native Americans, there are four stages -- or hills -- in every person's life.

The hills are represented by the seasons in which we grow, change and mature through childhood (spring); adolescence (summer); adulthood (fall); and old age (winter).

When Dwight Howe sees the four hills -- symbolized by the colors red, green, yellow and blue which are joined together as a complete circle on an outdoor basketball court --  he said it also pays respect to past cultures while paving the path for future generations.

Dwight Howe, the Omaha Tribe of Nebraska's cultural guidance counselor for suicide prevention, and Omaha Nation High School student Alissia Woodhull talk about a three-on-three basketball tournament to be held May 22 in Macy, Nebraska. Several Omaha Tribe of Nebraska groups are organizing events designed to offer youth positive summer activities. The three-on-three basketball tournament is the first planned event.

RESPECT FOR THE PAST, A PATH FOR THE FUTURE

"It's the circle of life," Howe, the cultural guidance counselor for suicide prevention with the Omaha Tribe of Nebraska, explained. "We're all in this together."

Howe is one of the organizers for a Play for Prevention 3-on-3 Co-Ed Basketball Tournament that is taking place at 9:30 a.m. Saturday at Macy's Basketball Courts (AKA "The Slab").

But he is quick to add that the basketball tournament -- which has separate division for seventh- and eighth-graders; ninth- and 10th-graders; and 11th- and 12th-graders -- also had buy-in from the community as well as from other area tribes.

A COMMUNITY'S HELPING HAND

"We needed the help of everyone to make this tournament happen," Howe said on a cool, damp day in May. "Everybody from the Omaha Tribe to the Macy Police Department to the (Four Hills of Life) Wellness Center to the high school were willing to lend a hand."

This included members of the Omaha Nation Public High School student council, who painted the four hills on the basketball court of "The Slab."

"There isn't much for young people to do (in Macy)," Ellianna Bertucci, a high school 11th-grader, admitted. "A basketball tournament is something we can look forward to."

SOMETHING POSITIVE TO DO ON 'THE SLAB'

Howe can sympathize with Bertucci's feelings.

"Kids are cute and happy and always smiling when they're young," he said. "As they get older, they are exposed to more things, some of which aren't very positive. We need more positive events and a basketball tournament is something which is very positive." 

A seven-year veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps and a former Golden Gloves boxer, Howe was raised by his dad in Ponca City, Oklahoma, and his grandma who lived nearby.

"At my dad's house, everything was modern and I could watch Red Skelton on TV," Howe said with a smile. "Grandma's house didn't have TV and it wasn't as much fun."

As he grew older, Howe began to regret not embracing elements of this Native heritage.

This included the Omaha-Ponca language, spoken by the Omaha people of Nebraska and the Ponca people of Nebraska and Oklahoma.

EMBRACING A NATIVE HERITAGE

"I can speak a little bit to carry on a conversation but I'm certainly far from being fluent," Howe explained. "There are probably only 20 people around here who can say they are truly fluent in the language."

Returning to Macy to bury his dad and reconnect with his mom in 2009, he was pleased that a greater emphasis was placed on Native culture.

"Growing up in the 1970s, we were told to assimilate," he said. "Nowadays, we are now teaching our kids the Omaha-Ponca language in school."

High school 11th grader Alissia Woodhull, for one, is happy to be learning her native language.

"It is important to my generation and it is important to the next generation," she said.

WELLNESS EDUCATION BEGINS AT A YOUNG AGE

Woodhull is also a basketball player and enjoys shooting hoops.

Which makes Julie Jacobsen, a Four Hills of Life Wellness Center diabetes prevention program director, happy.

"(The Native community) has a higher proportion of people with diabetes and heart disease than other populations," she said. "If we can teach young people the importance of diet and physical activity, it can change the course of their lives."

And who knows? They can grow up to become Cheyenne Robinson, who earned a master's in business administration, before coming back to Macy to become the vice chairperson of the Omaha Tribe. 

MORE THAN JUST A BASKETBALL TOURNAMENT

"I like seeing activities like a 3-on-3 tournament because Natives have embraced and excel at basketball," Robinson said, before adding that the event will actually be more than kids playing hoops.

Indeed, drum circles, songs, ceremonial dances and, even, teepee building demonstrations are being planned for the all-day event.

"This is a joint community effort to promote healthy living, good citizenship and spiritual growth," Howe said, "At least that is how I see it."

That is good enough for Grayson Miller, an 11th-grader, who said he isn't looking forward to the school year ending.

"There isn't much to do around here in the summer," Miller said. "Hopefully, this will be the start of more things happening around here."

Well, this is Howe's intent.

"When people hear about Natives in the newspaper, it is usually because of something bad going on," he said. "Our young people see that. A lot of our brightest people with get up and go? To be honest, they got up and left."

"We need to give them a reason to stay," Howe said. "We need them to proud of where they came from."

After a steady rain in Macy, the clouds began to break across the horizon.

As a few rays of sun peak through the clouds, "The Slab"'s cement started to dry.

And so did the Four Hills of Life, which are emblazoned on the basketball court.

"Basketball may bring people here," Howe said. "But we will also be paying respect to our elders while bringing the community together.

    

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