In November 1999, as in 17 prior seasons, Al Redman unlocked the cage for Wyoming Indian Highs first day of boys basketball practice. The silver-haired, self-styled "hard-ass" had already chalked up an impressive record as head coach of the Chiefs, including five state championships and a record 50-game winning streak. With retirement looming, he vowed to win the state final once last time.
By seasons end, however, the Chiefs had cruised to the championship game only to lose in a heartbreaker. For the junior members of the team, the pain of the loss was overcome by the prospect of next season. But for the graduating seniors the loss was demoralizing and the future for these kids remains unclear.
Beseiged by poverty, alcoholism, youth suicides and racism, the Wind River Reservation home to descendents of once warring tribes of Northern Arapahoe and Eastern Shoshone Indians hardly provides conditions conducive to success. But despite all this, or perhaps because of it, basketball is played and played well at Wyoming Indian High, located in a town called Ethete (Arapahoe for "good"). "Its something the white man couldnt take away from us," says junior Jerry Redman defiantly.
This November, coach Redman will be back, and so will filmmaker Dan Junge to continue work on a documentary about the Chiefs. Originally from Sheridan, Wyoming, Junge grew up in Cheyenne, attended NYU film school, and now lives in Denver, Colorado. He had planned to document only one season of Chiefss basketball, but with the teams loss last year, decided to return. "While dramatically important, basketball is merely a vehicle for what is at the heart of the [digitially shot] film," he explains. "The questions which most concern us as filmmakers are: What is it like to grow up Native American at the turn of the millennium? And what does the future hold for these kids?"
One thing is certain. The whole of the reservation will be looking on as another team of Chiefs takes the floor this fall.
Chiefs is being produced by Donna Dewey, who won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Short in 1998 for her film A Story of Healing. Steve Gallagher