After the conclusion of Salish Kootenai College’s victory over Iron 5 of North Dakota at the 14th annual Kyi-Yo Basketball Classic, kids flooded the gymnasium floor. Toddlers crawled on the varnished wood and older children shot free throws.
The Kyi-Yo Basketball Classic, which brought in 14 men’s and nine women’s mostly native teams from all over the northwest, the Dakotas and Arizona, is the Kyi-Yo Native American Association’s second-largest yearly event. The group strives to emphasize positive aspects of American Indian culture, and also holds a yearly powwow in April.
Shawnalea Chief Go Out, 12, dribbled a basketball and chatted with a group of friends just outside the West Auxiliary Gymnasium at the Adam’s Center, one of the many packs of children weaving in and out of the gym on Sunday evening. When a visitor asked to know who was good at basketball, Shawnalea’s friends’ eyes rolled toward her. But she didn’t want to brag; that’s not what the game is about for her.
“We just have fun,” she says. “It’s just a fun hobby and we’re just used to it because everyone does it where we come from.”
Leia Loonsfoot, president of the Kyi-Yo Native American Association, said she thinks the event has potential to be the best American Indian tournament in the northwest, but the organization isn’t getting a lot of support from the Missoula community. This year team registration fees of $400 pay for much of the cost of the three-day event.
“I’d like to see more support from local businesses,” she said. “We really draw a lot of people to town with this event.”
Back on the court, Zachary Camel, a coach for Salish Kootenai College, said he brings his team to the tournament because it’s good practice—they played four games in three days—and because it gets his players some exposure. Camel, native to Ronan, said basketball is an integral part of life on the reservation, especially for young people.
“If you go to the reservation, you see kids’ lights on playing into the night,” he said. “It’s a way for them to spend some time with each other in a positive way.”