JOHN EGGERS COLUMN: A legacy of Native American boxing

The voices of the boys are filled with timid enthusiasm. The coaches remind them again about saving their energy and not to go all out in the first round. They try to give them confidence. Some of them will be in the ring for the first time.

Parents, relatives and friends follow behind in a convoy of cars and pickups. A grandmother who wanted to come but wasn’t able to go gives one of the boys a hug before he leaves and tells him he will do just fine. There is talk of stopping to eat afterward. The boys will be hungry. Everyone has a feeling of pride. The night will be long but regardless of the outcome, it will be a good night for Native people.

The year could be in the 40’s, 50’s, 60’s or 70’s. Boxing for Native Americans was coming into its hay day. It was a huge deal in the Native communities of northern Minnesota. Many young Native men and boys saw stepping into the ring as a way to find success and achieve greater fulfillment in life and they did it with gusto.

Hard to believe, but even as recently as the 1970’s some Native American people on reservations lived in tarpaper shacks with few conveniences. Poverty was real. Unemployment was high. Fewer Native youth graduated from high school and fewer yet from colleges and universities.

Other than such things as hunting, fishing and gathering wild rice, the positive outlets for Native youth were limited. But, then there was boxing.

Fred Weaver was one of the first boxers from White Earth who took up the sport in the military in 1919 and brought it back to the reservation. Simon Bishop, another fighter from Naytahwaush fought professionally in the early 1920’s. Charles Buckanaga wrote in his 1979 book “The American Indian Boxers of Minnesota,” and from which much of this information was taken, wrote, “He (i.e. Bishop) traveled to Dunseith, North Dakota in 1921 where he scored two, first round knockouts over two local heavyweights on the same evening.”

Charles continues, “In addition to the…

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