On November 16, during American Indian Heritage Month, the Phoenix Suns launched a first-of-its-kind Native American recognition initiative to honor the 22 federally recognized Indian tribes of Arizona and celebrate their rich culture. The program, called Originativ, officially launched the team’s commitment to Arizona’s original citizens.
“For this (2022–23) season, our City Edition uniforms and the ‘Originativ’ program … honor the 22 tribal nations of Arizona,” said Graham Wincott, Phoenix Suns senior director of marketing, during a press conference at the Footprint Center in downtown Phoenix, home of the Phoenix Suns. The program’s name and logo combine the words “original” and “Native.”
At the press conference at Footprint Center, a large wall in the pavilion displaying the flags of the 22 tribal nations was unveiled. Present to showcase the flags and usher in the Phoenix Suns’ “Originativ” brand initiative to recognize Indigenous communities was Dean Martinez, the team’s senior director for live presentation and a member of the Navajo Nation.
Other guests and partners who helped make the initiative possible were GinaMarie Scarpa, president of the Native American Basketball Invitational (NABI), and Gila River Indian Community Governor Stephen Roe Lewis, both of whom have worked to support the game of basketball and the NABI tournament, which is held in Phoenix each July. The Originativ series is sponsored by Gila River Resorts and Casinos.
Wincott said the Phoenix Suns aspire to see the partnership grow with tribal communities and to use avenues like NABI to further foster the sport of basketball among Native peoples.
“This is such an amazing day, seeing 22 tribal nations of Arizona represented permanently on this wall. Thanks to all of our partners, both tribal and locally,” said Martinez. He said the fact that tribal communities are being represented at the Phoenix Suns games means a lot to him and all tribes of Arizona.
Lewis said, “This is a game changer. Nowhere will you see this kind of representation but here with the Phoenix Suns.” He said all of the O’odham tribes’ ties go back to their ancestors, the Huhugam, on whose ancestral lands the arena and all of the Phoenix metropolitan area were built.
“We are taking on this exciting chapter, a journey if you will, by telling our own stories by being here tonight and [representing] all tribal nations,” said Lewis. He said GRIC’s partnership with the Phoenix Suns opens the door to countless opportunities that will benefit all of Arizona’s tribal communities on the “main stage,” in terms of representation and opportunities for Native youth in basketball.
“It has been quite a journey, and we are ready to take an exciting first chapter with this partnership,” Scarpa said. “We put on one of the largest Native basketball tournaments, highlighting the best Native men and women. This is an amazing campaign that we look forward to see moving forward.”
November 16 was the first in a series of 10 Originativ game nights this season. It was followed by games on November 20, November 22 and December 2, with the next Originativ game night slated for January 8, featuring the Suns vs. the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Arizona’s tribal communities are well represented throughout Footprint Center, from the digital signage, which features a mix of traditional O’odham basketry designs and the word “sun” in each of the 22 tribal languages, to the scores of fans wearing new merchandise from the Suns’ City Edition collection.
Originativ will celebrate Indigenous communities off the court as well. For example, it will showcase and promote Native American–owned small businesses. Native Ground Coffee, a Native-owned coffee company from the SRPMIC, was the first such business to be showcased.
During the November 16 halftime show, Arizona tribal leaders in attendance each received a special gift. Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community President Martin Harvier received a commemorative Suns jacket.
From the 2015 season to November 2020, Footprint Center was called Talking Stick Resort Arena, as SRPMIC gaming property Talking Stick Resort secured the naming rights to the arena. In July 2021, Gilbert-based company Footprint purchased naming rights.
More information on the Suns’ Originativ initiative is available at www.Suns.com/ORIGINATIV.