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Native Olympians

by User Not Found | Jul 30, 2012
On Friday night, the Olympic flame was lit in London, kicking off 17 days of international competition. What does this have to do with the Eiteljorg Museum? Much more than you might think! This year’s Olympians include four Native women, three representing Team USA and one First Nations athlete representing Canada. Mary Killman (Citizen Potawatomi Nation) will represent the U.S. in synchronized swimming. Killman has a strong local connection, as she has been living here in Indianapolis while she trained with the national team. Tumua Anae, a native Hawaiian, is competing as the goalie for the U.S. water polo team. Adrienne Lyle (Cherokee) is representing the U.S. Equestrian team in the dressage competition. Finally, Mary Spencer (First Nations Ojibway) is participating in the Olympic debut of women’s boxing, competing in the 75-kilogram middleweight class for Team Canada.    

These four women are far from the first Native athletes to participate in the Olympics. 2012 marks the 100th anniversary of the 1912 Olympics, held in Stockholm, Sweden. These games were the scene of major triumphs by four Native athletes as they collectively brought home three gold and two silver medals for Team USA.  Jim Thorpe (Sac and Fox) won the gold medals in both the Pentathlon and the Decathlon, a feat that has not been repeated since. This achievement led King Gustav V of Sweden to proclaim him “the greatest athlete in the world.” Duke Kahanamoku, a Native Hawaiian, won the 100 meter freestyle event for the U.S. swim team, and helped the 4 x 200 meter relay team to a silver medal. Kahanamoku later went on to medal in both the 1920 and 1924 Olympics. Andrew Sockalexis (Penobscot) did not medal but finished an impressive fourth place in the marathon. Lewis Tewanima (Hopi) won silver in the 10,000 meter run, setting an American record that lasted until another Native American athlete, Billy Mills (Oglala Lakota), broke it while winning gold in the Tokyo Olympics of 1964.  

In honor of all these achievements, the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) has put together an exhibit titled Best in the World: Native Athletes in the Olympics. The exhibit will be on view through Sept. 3, 2012, and includes medals, photographs and other memorabilia.  

The Eiteljorg Museum has its own piece of Olympic history on display. Mihtohseenionki: The People’s Place is an ongoing exhibit dedicated to Native groups that have called Indiana home.  There are sections dedicated to the Miami, Potawatomi, Delaware and others. Objects in these cases represent both the historical and contemporary lives of the members of these groups. The Delaware section currently contains the Olympic uniform of the first Native American ever to serve as the head coach of an Olympic team. Gayle Hatch (Delaware) was the head coach of the 2004 weightlifting team. On loan from NMAI since 2010, his uniform will be on display in Mihtohseenionki until July 2014.

Best of luck to the 2012 Native Olympians! You can follow their progress on the NMAI website.

Kelly Rushing Carter is the museum registrar.

Photo captions:

(1)   Coach Gayle Hatch and Billy Mills at the opening of Best in the World: Native Athletes in the Olympics at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC

(2)   Coach Hatch’s uniform on display at the Eiteljorg Museum

1 Comment

  1. 1 Michelle 01 Oct
    Great post, and a very hidden gem here dtowonwn. The fiance and I love the Eitejorg and make a date out of going there, and then across the way to the IMAX theater! It truly is one of the neatest places in the city. Thanks for sharing and hope so many readers get to Jingle Rails to kick off their Holiday Spirit.

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