By Donna Ditota
Hiawatha’s belt rings the sleeves. An eagle head rests on the shirt’s back. The shorts are embroidered with the words “Dey Hon Tshi Gwa’ ehs,” which translates “to bump with hips,” the name given to the sport by The Creator.
All of these Native American symbols reside on high-tech fabric that bears the familiar Nike swoosh.
For years, Brine has provided sticks, head gear and protective gear to the Iroquois National lacrosse team, but never had a company offered the kind of financial assistance that would defray the cost of travel and apparel.
All that ended in May, when the Iroquois struck a historic deal with Nike.
The Iroquois Nationals represent the first Native American team Nike has sponsored, said Nike media relations manager Brian Facchini.
Facchini would not discuss the length or worth of the contract, but Iroquois attackman Gewas Schindler said it extends through 2010.
The deal includes uniforms and footwear, plus other casual apparel like warmups and T- shirts. The team uniforms were designed, in part, by local Iroquois and feature Indian imagery. Oren Lyons, said Facchini, created the eagles located on the jerseys and shoes.
The deal was brokered by Sam McCracken, who heads Nike’s Native American division. Facchini said Nike has worked with Native communities for about six years to promote healthy, active lifestyles within the culture. The Iroquois Nationals offered a chance for Nike to bring visibility to its support.
“They’re a very special team,” Facchini said. “The sport originated with the Native American people. We thought we could provide some of our new technology to the Iroquois. It’s just a great partnership.”
Nike recently flew the team to its headquarters in Oregon for four days to tour the facility and play an exhibition game. Several Iroquois players said Nike’s involvement with their team allayed financial fears and instilled a new dignity in the players.
“This is a major change for us. We’ve obviously never had this kind of sponsorship before,” said Iroquois coach Ron Doctor.
“And any group of players takes pride in the simple matter of having something nice to wear. The more gear they’ve got, the better they feel.”