By Dan Ninham
Boozhoo. Bimisebineshii indizhinikaaz: Greetings. My Indian name is Flying Bird. Awazisii nindoodem: My clan is Bullhead. Gaa-zagaskwaajimekaag nindonjibaa: I’m from Cass Lake. – Nate Howard
Indigenous people are taught to introduce themselves with their native language. They introduce themselves by name, clan and where they are from.
Nate Howard was a part of a special era of Cass Lake-Bena Panther HS (MN) and Leech Lake Tribal College (LLTC) basketball. His teams were 86-13 during his three years on the high school varsity between 2007 and 2009. During his two years with the LLTC the team was 40-20.
“I competed for my family, my people, for the youth and my community,” said Nate Howard, who was named a Minnesota All State Honorable Mention player in 2008.
Nate went to the ‘Big Dance’ not only once but three times in his high school playing days. He played in a state championship game at the Target Center in Minneapolis and the team finished as runner-ups. The 30-2 Panthers lost two games in the 2006-07 season one being to Ellsworth HS in the Class A State Final and the other during the regular season to St. Paul Johnson HS who finished as Class AAA State Champions. Both losses were by a basket. He also played in a first round loss game.”
In between his junior and senior seasons he knew he needed to improve to keep the standard moving forward. He averaged 10.5 ppg as a reserve guard in the state tournament runner-up season his junior year. As a senior, he improved his average to 23 ppg.
“I’m very grateful for the coach’s who coached me,” said Nate. “I remember when I had to fight Brady Fairbanks every day in practice for two years and that tested me to the brink.”
Brady Fairbanks was one of the accomplished basketball teammates among many accomplished student-athletes during and after high school. He continued on to earn NAIA All American honors at Haskell Indian Nations University. He also was Nathan’s coach at Leech Lake Tribal College.
“I’ve known Nate Howard for over 17 years,” said Brady Fairbanks. “He has always loved the game of basketball and had a great shot. He competes at a high level and his focus during clutch times is beautiful to watch.”
“Nate and I shared some great memories in high school playing on the same team, including a 30-2 record and a second place state championship finish,” said Brady Fairbanks.
After high school, Nate served our country in the US Army. He had two tours of duty in Kuwait and Qutar.
When he returned from military service he continued his basketball playing at the local tribal college. “While playing with the Leech Lake Tribal College Lakers in 2017-18, we brought home First Place NIAC Conference Tournament,” said Nate. “I received All Conference Honorable Mention. Later on that year we were runner-up for the National AIHEC Tournament. The year after that we were runner-up in the NIAC Conference Tournament and I received All Conference. That year we also took third place in the National AIHEC Tournament.”
“Nate got everything taken care of in his life and decided to come play for me at Leech Lake Tribal College,” said Brady. “During this time, I could see Nate work hard to get in shape, but always willing to learn more. This helped catapult us to our best record ever in 2018. Every place we went, you would hear the opposing coach’s yell where he was and you couldn’t leave him open.”
“I was just like any other kid growing up on the Leech Lake Reservation, I grew up with friends and relatives playing basketball,” said Nate.
The Seven Grandfather’s Teachings guide not only Ojibwe people but others as well. “Bravery is more than being brave, and it’s confronting your obstacles,” said Nathan. “It’s about being respectful and realizing that respect will take you places.”
“I am a US Army Veteran so the plan is to stick to a routine, get your legs going and focus on your balance,” said Nate. “I love the game of basketball, and it’s a natural therapy to me.”
Nate Howard continues to aspire toward being the best he can be. This isn’t just a military slogan. It’s a lifelong thought process and behavior practice that he is moving toward every day.