(NEW YORK) -- DeShawn and Sharmane Joseph want to see more Indigenous athletes on the world stage.
The husband-wife duo are the founders of Indigenous HOOPS -- which stands for "Honoring Our Original People in Sports" -- a nationwide basketball program for Indigenous youth that started as a local league for their Tulalip Nation.
"It all started because a little girl wanted to play basketball," Sharmane Joseph said about her and DeShawn Joseph's eldest daughter, who wanted to play basketball as a child. She didn't have a team to join until DeShawn Joseph started coaching one.
"She needed something for herself, to be able to have an outlet, to have something to look forward to," Sharmane Joseph said.
In 2014, when the Josephs' eldest daughter was a freshman in high school, the Tulalip community was impacted by a shooting at Marysville Pilchuck High School. Some tribal members were among those shot, along with teens in the community with whom their daughter was close.
"They grew up all together," Sharmane Joseph said. "So, it really just opened our eyes to [see] that we were not doing enough [in the community]. Maybe we're sitting idle."
To support the youth of the community better, the Josephs began working intensely with their existing basketball program, Unity Basketball, which they had founded in 2010 -- their daughter was part of the first Unity team -- and eventually expanded it into a second program, Indigenous HOOPS, which was founded in 2021.
While their overall goal is to give Native kids opportunities to showcase their talents and athletic skills, Sharmane and DeShawn Joseph said they also want Indigenous HOOPS to support the mental health of Native youth.
"Early on in the pandemic, we realized that there was a big missing gap for tribal youth, the mental health rate had declined for tribal use, the suicide rate had [gone] up. So we wanted to create something that might be a beacon of hope to help the kids look forward to something," DeShawn Joseph said.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, suicide was the second leading cause of death for Native Americans and Native Alaskans between the ages of 10-34 in 2019.
"Life is bigger than basketball, especially when it comes to mental health," DeShawn Joseph said, adding, "Being a Native American adolescent on the reservation, with maybe not as many opportunities as some others, basketball served as an outlet for me."
Sharmane Joseph said that along with supporting young people's mental health and all the life skills their program teaches, Indigenous HOOPS also offers participants a sense of belonging.
"It gives me a made-family that I made and created myself," she said. "It's just more family than it is basketball."
Sharmane -- lovingly known as "Mama Shar" within the league -- and DeShawn Joseph said they treat the players like their own children.
While their eldest daughter doesn't play basketball anymore, the small team her father started coaching for her has since grown into a nationwide program that has led Native youth to attend college and sign on to collegiate teams.
"I feel like it brings all of our people together, just like a powwow," DeShawn Joseph said. "But we're there for our children to play the sports we all love.
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