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Minnesota's Native American Legacy To Be Showcased During NCAA Women's Final Four

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- The women's NCAA basketball tournament started its "First Four" round Thursday night, and in a couple weeks, the Final Four will be played at Target Center in Minneapolis. There, Minnesota's Native American community will be showcased.

Jessie Stomski Seim wants this event to be a launching point for Native American athletes.

"The tournament will take place on Dakota land," Jessie Stomski Seim said. "Any time there's a national event in this state or others, we want to ground it in the place and in the original stewards of this land."

She serves as general counsel for the Prairie Island Indian Community. In her playing days, she starred on the court at Tartan High School, did the same at Wisconsin, was drafted into the WNBA and played overseas. But she says nothing compares to the speed and energy of basketball on the reservation.

"There's a passion around the game that you can feel when you walk into the gym," she said.

That's why Stomski Seim is disappointed that just 0.37% of NCAA athletes are Native American.

"I never would say that a Western education is the answer to all issues, because it's certainly not. But it should be an opportunity for kids that want to pursue it. And playing at the highest level should be an opportunity for a kid who can," she said.

Prairie Island Dakota Community
(credit: CBS)

She and her committee members have been working with the NCAA leading up to the Final Four. Part of the result: more than 200 Indigenous kids and families will get free tickets to each game.

"If you can show kids, and kids can experience and see the Final Four for themselves, they can go back into their communities and start to dream it and start to work towards it," Stomski Seim said.

During the games, there will be halftime shows and videos bringing attention to Native American communities, plus a clinic for players and coaches so all are better educated.

"We'll have one athlete there who went to boarding school herself. She's from the Navajo reservation, and then she ended up playing Division I basketball. But, you know, this is not history in the way that I think a lot of people perceive it," she said. "We want this to be where Minnesota tribal members can feel pride."

Stomski Seim says part of the reason Native basketball players don't get recruited is many live on reservations, which are often far from major metro areas.

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