The Great White North: National documentary shines light on racism against Native Americans in northern Michigan
Nimrod Nation on Sundance Channel highlights Upper Peninsula quirkiness of rural life, passion for high school basketball, hunting and fishing
(Watersmeet, Michigan) – Nimrod Nation follows the Watersmeet High School (Da Mighty, Mighty Nimrods) 2005-2006 basketball season and exposes racism and rural living, hunting and fishing in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan
The series deals with the (at best) late recognition or (at worse) racist snubbing of Native American Brian Aimsback after he scored 1,000 points as the Nimrod forward while on the previous year’s high school basketball team.
Brian, a sophomore, was honored the following season while the TV documentary was being filmed.
The coach – George Peterson III – said he was waiting for the first home basketball game and did not want to interrupt the momentum during the previous year’s tournament play when Brian reached the milestone.
Peterson is a Gogebic County Commissioner and also the school superintendent, principal and athletic director for the small school in the town of Watersmeet (Pop. 1,400) on the southern border of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula..
However, the coach’s son – George Patterson the IV – also a forward on the team reached the same milestone after a few more games.
The coach’s son said he and a friend are considered the studs at the school.
“We get most of the ladies,” the younger Peterson said.
A big halftime ceremony was held for the coach’s son, and their photo was in the paper.
Brian’s ceremony was not covered by the media and was held at the end of a game while people were leaving the gym.
His grandmother asked local tribal leaders to honor his son and present him with an Eagle feather.
Artwork from Blackfeet Nation website
A tribal elder was videotaped saying Native American warriors have to fight all kinds of battles including this injustice.
The coach denied the disparity of the ceremonies and that media coverage was linked to racism.
The coach added the local newspaper just happened to be at the game to cover his son’s ceremony but said the paper just happened not to be at Brian’s belated ceremony.
Brian’s father is a member of the Blackfeet Nation in Montana.
Logo courtesy Blackfeet Nation website
“The Blackfeet (Pikuni) belong to what is called the “Blackfoot Confederacy” where three other Tribes reside in Canada that make up this confederacy; North Peigan/pikuni, Blood/Kainai and Blackfoot/Siksika,” according to the tribe’s website.
Logo courtesy Blackfeet Nation website
Brian’s grandfather is from the U.P. and is a Chippewa at the Lac Vieux Desert tribe (Lac Vieux Band of Lake Superior Chippewa) in Watersmeet.
“Katikitegoning is the Chippewa name for the beautiful lake now known as Lac Vieux Desert,” states the tribe’s website:
Logo courtesy Lac Vieux Desert tribe website
Brian says he would not recognize his father.
“I never talk to my father at all – I don’t even know what he looks like,” Brian said.
Brian said he often speaks to his mother – who battled alcoholism – and they visit each other.
He hopes to be the first Native American pro-basketball player and lives with his grandparents near Watersmeet who adopted Brian when he was small.
Brian taught himself tribal dances and songs at age three.
Brian has not danced in recent years but listens to a lot of native music.
During the show, Brian said he doesn’t worry about the racism or how his basketball achievement was honored.
Brian Aimsback says he doesn’t “hang out” with the local reservation teens because they are “always getting in trouble.”
“There is always one of them sitting in jail,” said Brian, who added he can’t afford to get in fights or arrested for teen alcohol violations.
Brian said alcoholism is a concern and it’s a problem for some on the local reservation.
Some members of the town admit a problem with racism like the mother of Brian’s white girlfriend – while others downplay or deny it exists.
The “mighty, mighty Nimrods” Watersmeet High School basketball team in a eight-part documentary from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula directed by Brett Morgen. (Photo by Aaron Peterson for the Sundance Channel via the International Herald Tribune website – Established in 1887 in Paris, the IHT is owned by The New York Times Company)
By the way, gambling has also become a major activity in the U.P.
Until 1988, Lac Vieux Desert people were recognized as part of the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community (KBIC) in L’Anse, MI.
The Watermeets tribe has a huge casino – like many U.P. tribes.
The godfather of Native American gambling – and former KBIC president – is from the U.P. and in recent years casinos have sprung up like mushrooms.
Ironically, that Godfather of gambling served time in prison after a federal probe into tribal and personal finances sparked by a takeover of his nearby KBIC reservation by disgruntled members and AIM who accused the council president and his minions of corruption.
Dozens and dozens of U.P. residents have gone to prison for embezzlement from their employers or their favorite charities linked to a gambling addiction.
Everything and everybody are linked in the U.P. – known for it’s hearty individualism and a one-time movement to secede from the U.S. or become it’s own state.
Adam Pincus, Kevin Proudfoot and Brett Morgen
Director Brett Morgan is from Santa Monica, California and stumbled on the town’s quirkiness (like many U.P. towns) while directing three promos for a 2004 ESPN campaign after the sports network fell in love with the school’s wacky name for its teams – The Nimrods.
In Watersmeet – and the rest of the U.P. – snow is measured in feet (over 300 inches in some areas each winter) and fishing and hunting are a golden pass time.
Some U.P. towns still don’t have cable TV and can’t watch the series or access the internet without a satellite dish.
Watersmeet – and some other U.P. communities – don’t have a movie theater or other pass times for residents so high school sports is king.
For the record – Nimrod is the name of a king in the Bible known for being a great hunter and in today’s language is a insult for someone who is stupid, weird or unpopular.
Director Brett Morgen’s other films:
The Kid Stays in the Picture
On the Ropes
Link to Sundance channel’s Nimrod Nation documentary website:
In a recent national radio interview, Turtle Island Project Director Rev. Dr. Lynn Hubbard described racism against Native Americans in northern Michigan as “insidious.”
Hubbard said some U.P. residents either don’t want to admit or flat out deny there is racism against First Nations Peoples in the Great White North.
As volunteer media advisor for the Turtle Island project – I responded to comments about the racism that were brought out in the Nimrod Nation documentary on the Sundance Channel.
Link to the comments (scroll down to Yoopernewsman):
Additional info on Turtle Island Project in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula:
As volunteer media advisor for the Upper Peninsula based non-profit Turtle Island Project, it’s been a challenge to get the media to publish our goals – one of the main objectives is addressing racism against First Nations peoples in Michigan’s pristine U.P.
While based in Munising along Lake Superior, the Turtle Island Project (TIP) works with tribes across the U.S.
For example, this Saturday, Dec. 15, 2007 is the second TIP free benefit concert for the White Buffalo Calf Womans Society in Mission, South Dakota – the first and oldest domestic violence shelter on an American Indian reservation.
This concert will help address the shocking number of teen suicides on that Lakota reservation that is also under-reported by the mainstream media (18 deaths, 500 attempted suicides in the past two years).
The Dec. 15 concert is in Munising. The first was held in August 2007 when two U.P. folk bands – White Water and Duo Borealis – traveled to South Dakota. Since that event three more Rosebud teen have killed themselves.
TIP will hold its second Native American Roundtable and National Conference in August 2008 with well-known Native American leaders from around the country.
All TIP events are free.
Everyone is invited, although we ask First Nations peoples to set the agenda without interference from whites.
The TIP founders are Rev. Dr. Lynn Hubbard of Munising, MI, a Lutheran pastor who has served in many locations including Chicago and the Virgin Islands; and Rev. Dr. George Cairns of Chesterton, Indiana, a Chicago Theological Seminary research professor and an United Church of Christ minister.
Turtle Island Project main website:
Other TIP websites:
Turtle Island TV – Video sites:
Important TIP videos on racism:
TIP founder warns meeting of religious scholars about consequences of racism/spiritual terrorism against Native Americans in August 2007:
TIP founder on bordertown racism on Native America Calling national radio talk show in August 2007:
Report on first TIP Native American roundtable in U.P. in Sept. 2007:
Upper Peninsula religious leaders from 9 faith traditions with 140 churches/temples are concerned about the racism against Native Americans and the environment.
I am also the volunteer media advisor for two other non-profit U.P. projects involving these religious leaders, Native Americans, the environment and racism.
The Manoomin Project (Native American guides teach at-risk teens about racism and other social issues while restoring/planting wild rice in the U.P.):
The Earth Keeper Initiative:
Videos on both projects:
For more information or contact info for the TIP founders or any of the projects please call 906-475-5068 or email: