Monday, December 24, 2007

Navajo sportswear company will support Native athletes

Business News - Native Business News

by S.J. Wilson
Flagstaff, Arizona (NFIC)

Kelvin Long enjoys challenging Native Americans to elevate their game. He is well known as an environmental justice advocate as director of ECHOES (Educating Communities While Healing and Offering Environmental Support) – an organization supporting sacred sites protection.

Long has also developed his own athletic clothing line, Peak State.

Talking with Long reveals a small sense of guilt. As a man who has given tirelessly to his community and others, he seems uncomfortable about the concept of making money. Giving back is a strong sense of duty – so Long has announced his intention of dedicating a portion of the company’s profit towards supporting Native athletes.

“I grew up playing sports – all the way through college,” Long said. “Unfortunately, I found myself in a desk job and wasn’t able to exercise.”

As the years passed, Long did put on some weight, but has been taking action that has him slimming down.

“I decided to go ahead and push through a healthier lifestyle through being more active and in supporting other Native athletes,” Long added.

Long’s activist work takes him to communities throughout the United States and the world.

“Through this, I have come to realize that there was a need not only to defend our lands, but to also support the physical, mental and spiritual state of Indigenous people. Peak State is built around that idea.

“It’s a realistic approach to support Native athletes – our athletic clothing is designed based on cultural understandings of knowledge, balance and spirituality,” Long added.

The vision of Peak State is to sponsor semi-professional athletes, adding possible sports venues for Native athletes in the future.

Long is a realist. He has only to look into his own childhood to realize the affect that outside cultures has on his own people. Though his family provided him with a strong cultural foundation, there were other avenues for development outside his home.

“Sports are very important to Native youth in developing a sense of belonging and value,” Long said.

“Sports are very important to Native youth in developing a sense of belonging and value,” Long said. “As a child, I wrestled and was an all-star football player at Greyhills Academy in Tuba City. I trained with my brother who was a professional kick boxer, and I even played chess.”

“I was a little bit of a nerd,” Long confessed. “I was into theater, and I used to write plays.” He went on to say that the opportunity to DJ for the high school radio station also helped sharpen his communication skills.

Sadly, there was also a strong, alluring gang presence – another way of belonging – and Long found himself gravitating towards that lifestyle.

“Fortunately, I was caught by the police at a young age,” Long said. “I got into some trouble, and then met my mentor, Norman Brown, who taught me about the American Indian Movement and set me on my path towards the not-for-profit world.”

Long works with Gabriel Yaiva, a hip hop artist who operates through Native Movement (a Flagstaff-based cooperative of programs for youth) with the Peace and Balance Program – speaking to young people about drugs, alcohol and gang awareness.

“I see a need for young men and women to be a part of a group,” Long said. “In the past we had hunting parties and other things of that nature. Men would go off for days at a time, even weeks, and they would have that camaraderie among themselves. When I see young people in gangs, I think about that – there is definitely a need to provide opportunities for young people to be together in a healthy environment. Young people need to be challenged. They need to be supported as well.

“I think a lot of times, young people just want to find an outlet. But everybody wants something better for themselves. Everybody wants to be happy. If you can show success to a young person and tell them how to get it without criticizing or putting anyone down, it is my experience that they will embrace it.”

In comparing reservation life with a life in the projects, Long said that after his first few years of living in the “deep rez,” he went to school at Greyhills, where he realized that just because someone lives in a city it doesn’t mean that there is a lot of opportunities.

“A lot of the kids growing up in the projects come from poor families, and unfortunately you need money in the city to find opportunity,” Long said. If there are no youth programs in your community, it seems the system is created to keep the oppressed down.

“We are taught out there to achieve the American Dream, and that doesn’t mean being a farmer or sheepherder, so if you are out on the reservation, what does that leave you?” Long said. “You romanticize American culture, and primarily what we get is what we see on television, and that creates a lot of problems. Television romanticizes the gang culture. It’s really easy to adapt to, to become part of. So that gang culture provides that space for young people to be part of something.”

As an adult, Long sees his athletic wear company as a way to provide opportunities for young people.

“Part of the concept for this company comes from the fact that we as Indigenous people have some great athletes, but up to this point we haven’t had our own athletic company to support them,” Long said. “We want to develop a sense of pride for our athleticism rather than rely on huge corporations like Nike. As Indigenous people, we are intelligent enough to createthis for ourselves.”

When asked about his feelings towards the new line of Nike shoes designed for Native American buyers, Long smiled.

“Growing up as an athlete, shoes are something that my friends and I always talked about. Some of my friends had flat feet, some have high arches. Mine are kind of in the middle,” Long said. “So I laugh at the idea that there is one shoe tailored specifically for Native people. Just like our cultures, we are very diverse physically as human beings – I don’t know if one shoe can fit us all.”

Long began the process of forming Peak State at the very end of 2006 – and to date had developed T-shirts and a multitude of designs. Currently his clothing is produced by a friend’s company, but Long plans on taking this task into his home community of Kaibito.

There are very few jobs available in the Kaibito area – Long pointed out that there are about 2,000 people, a school that provides twenty-some jobs, a gas station and a convenience store.

“Unfortunately the majority of people in Kaibito leave the community to look for work,” Long said. “This isn’t unique to Kaibito. It happens all over the reservation. But there are enough of us who have an interest in returning to the reservation – to strengthen the infrastructure out there and to create more local business on the land.”

There is another answer, Long believes – and that is sports. Therefore, his dream of opening the first Native-owned and operated sportswear company includes the responsibility to support Native American athletes.

“Whether they are runners, boxers, rock climbers or archers, Peak State challenges Native athletes to elevate their game to their peak state – through training and balancing their physical and spiritual beings,” Long said.

To view Peak State designs, visit www.myspace/peakstateworld .

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