By Dan Ninham
Brook LaFloe comes from seven generations of Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa (Ojibwe) members on her paternal and maternal side but grew up in the Twin Cities of Minnesota. She is an educator and entrepreneur with a passion for revitalizing culture, and facilitating the growth of local Indigenous economies.
Her academic background includes a Tulane University Bachelors of Science degree in Neuroscience and Anthropology, a Loyola University of Maryland Masters in Education and two Association Montessori International (AMI) diplomas in Assistants to Infancy (birth-three years) and Primary (three-six years) levels.
LaFloe “walked on” at Macalester College on the volleyball and basketball teams. Prior to her junior year she “walked on” at Tulane University on the basketball team. (“Walked on” is a college athletics term that means being accepted on the team by the coaching staff and not receiving a scholarship to play.) Her journey to college athletics near and far focused on following the neuroscience field.
She learned many lessons being a college level athlete at the NCAA D3 and D1 levels.
LaFloe said, “Working on a team and knowing your role and everyone else’s role on the team was something I’ve been able to apply in professional settings, working with artists and youth. As far as the sport itself and my coaching, I believe Tulane brought me the greatest basketball IQ that I’ve been able to share with my kids. I run similar defense and offense to Tulane women’s team.”
“I also have the expectation that they are in school and play for their school teams to play with me in the summers. Grades need to at least allow them to participate in school sports. We talk about what teams they want to go to next and most want to do college,” added LaFloe.
LaFloe is more than just project-driven as a youth basketball coach. She operates Niniijaanis One of Ones, a social enterprise for Indigenous children. “We have programs in early childhood all the way through high school with our Niniijaanis MMIW sports teams,” said LaFloe.
LaFloe’s indigenous core values defines how she works with her projects. She said, “Our social enterprise holds our seven Anishinaabe teachings as our business values plus one more … generosity. These are the shared values among our collective team. We do everything from a community and cultural lens as best as possible to drive our projects from start to finish.”
The Native American Midwest team were the Gold Bracket Champions in the 11-12 grade division “Run It Back” Premier Indigenous Series at the TRIBE Athletics Sports tournament in Mesa, AZ on September 25, 2022.
The Niniijaanis MMIW team were also the first runner-up in a national tournament earlier this past season.
“One of the challenges the boys team faced was natural adversity to playing older boys their freshman summers. They got beat most of that summer but came back their sophomore summers to work for our first runner-up title. They continue to see adversity against older teams but do well when they play in their age brackets.”
Mentors support leadership among their mentees. The mentorship develops individuals where they were, where they are now, and where they are going as they empower others.
“My main mentor in life is my mom Janice LaFloe, who is an active member and co-founder of Niniijaanis One of Ones,” said LaFloe. “My mother laid the groundwork for her children including myself as a coach, and my little brother as a player to use our gifts to be part of our surrounding community and to ensure we give back to the circle with those gifts and with our social enterprise.”
“My mom has supported me through early learning, all the way through college, my early career and supported me to incorporate Niniijaanis One of Ones. She is a professional mentor, spiritual guide and emotional support beyond her role as mom,” said LaFloe.
“Brook is whole-heartedly committed to supporting access to opportunities for her brother, cousins and others,” said Janice LaFloe. “She was afforded opportunities to travel and experience many other things through basketball and wants to pass that along. I love how she is creating a native basketball ball culture for our native youth.”
“The youth she’s connected with enjoy the opportunities and are growing in skills and confidence. She thinks of basketball as good medicine – a good way to support healthy development,” Janice LaFloe said.