West River Eagle

Lakota Cultural Center exchanges gifts with Australian Indigenous sportsman and youth advocate

PHOTO COURTESY OF PETE STAHLBRAND Cheyenne River Lakota elders exchanged gifts with respectful Indigenous visitors from Australia in the area for the YMCA Global Indigenous Youth Summit. Standing (L to R): Andrew Corley (YMCA), Shane Farlee (YMCA), Ijah Coyle (Stephen Michael Foundation), Rory Yates (Stephen Michael Foundation), Dave West Sr (Community Elder and representative of the Lakota Cultural Center), Stephen Michael (Founder and Patron of the Stephen Michael Foundation), Seated (L to R): Lakota community elders Vivian High Elk, Gib Red Dog, Lonna Knight, Daryl Clown (Employee of the Lakota Cultural Center), Elnora High Elk, Ben Elk Eagle.

The Lakota Cultural Center hosted a lunch and gift exchange on Monday August 14, 2023, with guests from the YMCA of the Seven Council Fires including Stephen Michael, an Australian aboriginal sports superstar and youth advocate. Michael was a keynote speaker at the four-day YMCA Youth Summit at Camp Marrow Bone on August 16 – 19, 2023. 

The Global Indigenous Youth Summit (GIYS) is a conference designed to create a safe environment for indigenous and under-represented youth. Founded in understanding, compassion, and trust, it connects and provides youth with a safe place to share their stories. See upcoming issues of the West River Eagle for a complete report of this year’s camp.

Michael is a member of the Noongar Nation of Australian Aboriginal Peoples. He is widely considered to be one of the greatest players ever of Australian rules football (rugby). He has been inducted into his club, state, and national halls of fame and named to the Indigenous Team of the Century.

Now retired from professional sports, Michael is the founder and patron of the Stephen Michael Foundation, which introduces children of all races and abilities in rural and metro Western Australia to a wide variety of sport. Consistent with both his own culture and Lakota culture, Michael came to the luncheon to respectfully ask permission of Lakota Elders to be on Lakota land. 

Dave West, director of the Lakota Cultural Center, welcomed the representatives from The Stephen Michael Foundation. Speaking on behalf of gathered Cheyenne River Lakota elders and himself, West invited Michael and other Foundation and YMCA representatives to enter the Cheyenne River Reservation and participate in the Global Indigenous Youth Summit. 

West presented the representatives from the Foundation with gifts of a knife and sheath made from the bones and hide of a recently harvested bison.  West also presented Michael with a beadwork necklace.

Stephen Michael and Ijah Coyle, also of the Noongar Nation of Australian aboriginal people and Stephen Michael Foundation Regional Director, graciously accepted the invitation. 

Michael brought to the Cultural Center gifts of traditional tapping sticks, an Australian Aboriginal percussion instrument used to compliment the playing of a didgeridoo, and a decorated emu egg expertly carved with a depiction of two koala bears.

In addition, the Foundation brought an Australian Aboriginal flag, which is flown alongside the national flag in Australia.  This simple flag of red, yellow, and black has powerful symbolism.  The red represents the red clay land from which the Aboriginal cultures sustain themselves. The yellow represents the Sun and all the opportunity brought forth by the new day.  The black represents all Aboriginal peoples.  

Fourth, the Foundation representatives brought the gift of a uniform of Michaels’ former professional team, South Fremantle, personalized and signed by Michael. In professional sports in Australia, Indigenous players past and present are asked to redesign their uniforms to honor the Indigenous cultures and the athletes who come from those cultures.  

The Indigenous players of South Fremantle designed a uniform that depicts the importance of the Swan River and the abundance of its yearly salmon runs.  It shows the harmony between the ocean, river, land, and wildlife that sustained the Noongar People.  

According to an article in the National Indigenous Times, an Australian publication, the Stephen Michael Foundation sees the YMCA Youth Summit as an exciting opportunity for learning and cultural exchange with Indigenous peoples from across North America, with Native American youth delegates potentially joining the Foundation’s two-day leadership camp in Perth, Australia, in the future.

After the gift exchange, the representatives from the Foundation shared a meal with local Lakota community members.  Everyone enjoyed Indian tacos prepared by the kitchen staff of the YMCA of the Seven Council Fires and Bapa soup prepared by the staff of the Lakota Cultural Center.

Michael commented, “When Pete (Stahlbrand, Family Camp Director, YMCA of the Seven Council Fires) rang me and asked me would you like to come and speak … two things stand out: For me to go over and speak to the group of people going through the same situation as Indigenous people in Australia, and to see how we can go along improving each other’s wellbeing. …It’s a great thrill.”

Michael said the key goal of his coming to South Dakota is to examine “how we can improve each other’s outlook. We can compare these situations in which things are not done properly on both sides of the world,” he said. “Indigenous people are not getting treated right and we need to improve that situation long term for our future.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *