By Cary Rosenbaum, Tribal Tribune
The Schimmel family stands tallest in the view of the Native American eye because of the success surrounding two of its 10 members.
One, Shoni, age 22, is the successful WNBA player who just capped off her rookie campaign with an All-Star most valuable player award.
The other, Jude, a 20-year-old senior guard at Louisville starting her master’s degree with a goal of helping the family with the legal side of sports in the event she doesn’t follow in her sister’s shoes.
The Umatilla tribal duo highlighted events in the Pacific Northwest in August, with Shoni and the Atlanta Dream playing at the Seattle Storm and Jude speaking in Worley, Idaho for the United National Indian Tribal Youth Conference.
They were both given microphones to preach their universal message: American Indians should look at them and say, “If they can do it, I can do it.”
“I tell people don’t be like Shoni Schimmel,” Shoni said, “be better than Shoni Schimmel.”
“We’re doing it for all Native Americans,” Jude said.
These sisters elevate their family into the spotlight as well, which could be seen at the Worley Longhouse with the family, sans Shea and Shoni, in attendance. A young girl wanted to know what goals teenage brothers Mick and Jobe have.
The media loves them, too. In April of 2013, the Associated Press wrote a story titled, “Schimmel parents get married after win over Baylor.”
But mother Ceci Schimmel suggested their family’s journey — which shot them into the spotlight after Jonathan Hock’s “Off The Rez,” documentary — was never about fame.
“In setting our goals as a family and as individuals, it was never ever about fame,” she said, noting her philosophy is to do good for others so it will return back. “That’s the mentality that I always try to instill in my kids that you always be helpful: You be that shepherd where you’re helping your people.
“Believe me, with that probably follows fame, only because people love you and want to support you because you’re being loving.”
The head of the household and the spokesman for the family is known as ‘Ricky Schim.’ It was a name the man from Pendleton, Ore. earned through more than 25 years of assimilation into tribal culture. He is the disciplinarian who preaches positive habit building.
“We only have two bad habits in this family,” he said, “and that’s cussing and drinking pop.”
‘Loud and Proud’
Although they have a non-Indian father in Rick, Shoni and Jude have not had problems coping with their identity.
Their mother made it easy. They were given a choice: Be white or American Indian.
“I said, ‘I don’t care what you are. If you want to go white, go loud and proud. I’m cool with that. If you want to go Native, I’m even prouder,’” she said.
It’s not hard to guess what they chose.
“I’m loud and proud Native,” Shoni said.
Jude said she embraces her light skin, light hair and green eyes.
“It’s not necessarily how you look but how you act and your culture and background. I don’t let (my features) bother me. I’m still Native … it’s where you come from and how you present yourself.”
And Shoni found out first-hand that presenting yourself as Native comes with discrimination. She recalled playing in a tournament in Warm Springs, Ore. as a child where a referee picked on her because of her heritage.
“Growing up, you come up with a lot of adversity,” she said.
Ceci said that the adversity is tough to overcome for Indians of the Umatilla Reservation, by nearby Pendleton, Ore.
“Where I come from, Pendleton is very racist to Native Americans,” she said. “The things they have said and done to me since I was 10 years old, seriously I could probably write a trail of tears documentary on the stuff I’ve gone through.
“A normal person wouldn’t go through what I’ve gone through and survive it. It’s sickening actually.”
A generation later, the prejudice has continued, Ceci said.
“They’ve done stuff to Shea, my oldest son, and Shoni,” she said. “It’s traumatizing.”
To help bring awareness, Shoni and Jude brought their Louisville teammates back to their reservation to expose them to their culture.
“They thought, ‘This is really cool, maybe the whole world should see this,” Jude recalled.
The family has since relocated to Lapwai, Idaho.
Against all odds
It seemed like just yesterday, Jude said, she and Shoni were playing ball outdoors on the Umatilla Indian Reservation, pretending to be NBA and WNBA players. Cynthia Cooper, Sue Bird and Michael Jordan were just a few of them.
Growing up, they attended open gym religiously, playing with and against the boys, which Shoni called fun “because they’re a lot faster, bigger and stronger than you. It gives you motivation.”
When it came to making the leap to Franklin High School in Portland, the family received criticism, Shoni said.
“It was a big thing,” she said. “Everybody’s like, ‘You can’t move off the reservation. You’re not supposed to.’ It was a bigger thing for my family.”
Shoni recalled being looked down upon by some from home, but acknowledged the move would only help develop her as a person.
And develop it did.
The Schimmels would go on to lead Franklin to back-to-back playoff appearances, with Shoni gaining the attention of dozens of Division I schools.
Then came the time to make a decision, where she chose to attend Louisville to play for Jeff Walz.
The reservation again beckoned. But her mother had instilled in her the power to persist.
“One thing my mom always told me when I was younger, it’s only four years of your life,” Shoni said. “You can always come back to the reservation if you want to. The rez is always home, it’s always gonna be there.
Jude wasn’t far behind.
“It was for my own benefit to go off and try to be successful and make the most of my life,” Jude said.
They teamed up to lead the No. 5-seeded Cardinals to the national championship in 2013, where the underdogs fell 93-60 to the heavily favored University of Connecticut. Last year, they lost a close one to Maryland, 76-73, in the Elite 8.
After earning All-American recognition, Shoni was selected by the Atlanta Dream with the eighth overall pick.
Continuing to grow
About a month from the culmination of her collegiate career, Shoni was back on the basketball court as the Dream opened up the regular season on May 16 against San Antonio.
She debuted with team-record 11 assists. Despite starting just two games all season, she was selected by her fans to the WNBA All-Star team, where she earned MVP after scoring 29 points and dishing out eight assists.
Atlanta, 18-13 at the end of the season, earned the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference before being stunned by Elena Delle Donne and the Chicago Sky in the opening round.
Her coach, Michael Cooper, believes Schimmel — who averaged 8.3 points and 3.6 assists per game in 21 minutes — will progress “into a very special player in this league.”
“She’s got some things to clean up,” he said. “Going overseas and playing in the summer season will help her a lot.”
Schimmel was undecided of her next move as of Aug. 7. The Dream fell 2-1 to the Chicago Sky in the Eastern Conference semifinals. She is slated to be a guest speaker at Cooper’s basketball camp in Pablo, Mont. on Oct. 4.
Jude’s senior season begins in mid-November, where she hopes to showcase her talent on a team with about as many freshmen as seniors and juniors combined. She said the team, which last year boasted a 33-5 record and No. 3 ranking in the NCAA Tournament, has unfinished business.
“The ultimate goal is to win a championship,” she said. “This year, we’re young, inexperienced, but that could be really good for us. I’m looking forward to a brand new beginning.
“Honestly, we have the talent, it’s just a matter of us coming together and putting it all together and playing great games throughout the season.”
With Shoni gone, it feels like a repeat from high school, Jude said, “but this year I feel more prepared for it.”
“I’m still sad I don’t get to play with her right now. I’m hoping to play with her again in the future, but we’ll see,” she continued. “I just feel like it’s my opportunity for everyone else to see the other aspects of my game that they haven’t seen the last three years.”
For the first time in her collegiate career, she started a game last season — five of them, averaging 5.5 points and 3.5 assists while finishing second on the team with 54 steals. Her highlight was scoring double-digit points in consecutive games in the NCAA Tournament.
The competitive drive of the Schimmel sisters continues to fuel their evolution.
“We’re not doing it for ourselves, we’re doing it for all Native Americans,” Jude said.
“All the odds are against you,” Shoni said, “so why not beat them?”
Cary Rosenbaum is the editor of The Tribal Tribune. The Inchelium native and Lakes Band tribal member can be contacted via telephone at (509)634-2225 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Story republished with the permission of the Tribal Tribune. All Rights Reserved)