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Native Sun News: Roller Derby gains steam in Indian Country

The following story was written and reported by David Michaud, Native Sun News Correspondent. All content © Native Sun News.

The Kahnawake Wagon Burners are one of many Native American teams in the country.

Roller Derby gains steam in Indian country
By David Michaud
Native Sun News Correspondent

SIOUX FALLS—Not everyone would consider rolling around in roller skates and knocking people over a good time, but then again not everyone is cut out for roller derby.

Roller derby competitors are, you could say, cut from a different cloth. Women like Ruth Redbird, who has been involved in the sport for the past six years and has loved every second of it, are few and far between.

“I showed up not knowing anyone and fell in love with it almost immediately. I started in Feb '07, skated until May '11, bench coached until Sep '11, and started skating again in March of this year,” said Redbird. “I took a break to have my boys - my "nine-month injury" was more like 18 months.”

Like Ruth, an enrolled Kiowa from Carnegie, Okla., other natives from around the continent have taken to the sport. There is a team in Kahnawake, Quebec, Canada, of mostly Mohawk women who compete in the sport. Their team name is the Kahnawake Wagon Burners.

The Wagon Burners had their first season this year, playing four games with a fifth upcoming. Along with roller derby they are active in the community with fundraisers and scrimmages where community members can come and try out the sport.

“Most girls love the high-intensity of the sport, it is an extreme sport and there isn't much for women around us," said Michelle "Squarrior" Cross.

While some people have some misconceptions about who steps into the derby ring they do not realize that these ladies come from all walks of life.

Redbird is a family woman as she has a husband and twin boys. She also has a college degree.

“I love that this sport allows women of all ages, shapes, and sizes to participate. I'm an almost 37-year old stay-at-home-mom with a Ph.D. in biochemistry and an Ivy League degree,” said Redbird, who added, “But that means nothing when you're getting knocked on your ass or lapped by someone nearly twenty years younger than you.”

Another woman, Arvina Martin of Madison Wis., is also a mother who studied at Dartmouth and she too participates in the sport.

Martin is a single mother of a young girl who is an enrolled Ho Chunk member. She works with political campaigns and is currently working with tribes in Wisconsin.

Redbird currently plies her trade in Roanoke, Va., and says that her team, like the Wagon Burners and others, has trouble with finding a steady place to practice.

“We practice about three hours a day, two days a week. It's hard to find practice space or we would practice more. Typically we spend some time warming up, either off- or on-skates. Then we do some skating drills where we work on fundamentals - footwork, strategy, awareness, etc. - and we do some endurance skating as well,” said Redbird.

"About once a week we throw in some scrimmage time, maybe more if we have a bout coming up. For me, its a good practice if I'm drenched in sweat and drained my water bottle dry."

One of the things that most roller derby athletes enjoy most about the sport is the camaraderie that it builds. In roller derby players must be selfless, as they are often asked to sacrifice their bodies for the good of the team.

Martin’s team, the Vaudeville Vixens, practices 5 days a week.

“We need to make a certain percentage of practices in order to be play in bouts, because we need to have our skaters safe,” said Martin. “You also have to do a lot of cross training to keep yourself strong and in shape.”

We also have to take the time to learn the rules and team strategy. It's a very time consuming sport and you have to be dedicated in order to make it.”

The Wagon Burner women, who just started their team, enjoy how much support their community has given them.

“This season we were able to expose our sport to our community and we have received so much support, positive feedback and interest from other girls to join,” said Cross.

In roller derby the athletes don't get paid, far from it. Some teams like the wagon burners hold fundraisers to raise money for travel and gear. Unfortunately, that is not always enough.

Many times players pay out of their own pocket to have a chance to play.

With so many financial obstacles before ever putting the skates on just drives the women to want to win more, and that makes for even more excitement.

This means players have a love of the sport that is unparalleled in most other sports.

“I really like playing on a team and working with my teammates,” said Martin. “There is something really satisfying about putting all the time in at practice and then coming together with your teammates.”

Copyright permission by Native Sun News

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