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Cheyenne River youth compete in Indigenous Bowl

Ashten Ganje and Favian Sanchez represent Native scholarship and sportsmanship

The fourth annual Indigenous Bowl took place on Sunday, December 5, in Minneapolis, MN. Approximately 60 Indigenous students were selected from over 300 applicants to train and compete in three teams, including CRST Tribal members Ashten Ganje of Eagle Butte and Flavian Sanchez of Groton.

The Indigenous Bowl was an opportunity for 54 indigenous athletes representing more than 30 tribes across Indian Country to come together on the field in U.S. Bank Stadium. 

Yet, this is more than a football game. The student-athletes participated in leadership training, and seminars covering a range of topics; from applying for college scholarships to managing personal finances as well as refining their skills as football players.

Quarterback Ashten Ganje from Eagle Butte said learning from “really cool” quarterback coach Drew Aumavae was one of his favorite memories. “Coach Drew showed me a lot of new things about how to play quarterback and made me want to play more at the college-level,” said Ganje.

Over the course of the week, the student-athletes were exposed to leadership training and heard from speakers and coaches that touched on topics from maintaining personal finances to applying for college scholarships to how to refine their skills as football players.

This is an opportunity for Indigenous athletes to come together to appreciate the cultural diversity within the Indigenous nation and bond through common experiences. More than 350 Indigenous athletes applied to play in the game, the most since the game’s inception.

Ganje’s roommate was from Pine Ridge and he’s happy to have made friends with another Indigenous Bowl alum who lives close to home.

Ganje says, “It was a one-of-a-kind experience. Honestly, I didn’t think it was going to be as fun as it ended up being so fun, I don’t think I’ll ever experience something like that again…I got to play with some incredible kids. I didn’t know there were Native kids out there who were that good as athletes, football-wise.”

He encourages students to try to go out for it next year if they really like playing football, “It’s a great experience. It’s a great to experience something in general and to see other Native kids and make friendships with other Native kids.”

This is also a time for Indigenous parents to celebrate their student-athletes. Many see the Indigenous Bowl as a goal for the players to reach through hard work and commitment off the field because maintaining good grades is a requirement for participation.

The coaches are also available as a resource to all the players so that they can be successful in college and afterwards regardless if they play sports or not.

Chairman Harold Frazier praised the young men in a news release, saying “I wish both of these tribal members good luck in reaching their goals in the future and look forward to the possibilities this new generation is capable of for the people.”

The event is organized and hosted by the 7G Foundation and is the organization’s premier event. 7G was founded by Ms. Bennae Calac, an enrolled member of the Pauma Band of Luiseño Indian of Pauma Valley, California, with the aim of developing Native leaders through education, athletics, culture and real-world support for the next seven generations.

The event began in 2017. This year’s Indigenous Bowl was the fourth time the game has taken place. Last year’s game was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This year, the 7G Foundation partnered with the NFL and Minnesota Vikings. The game was free and open to the public.

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