Sam McCracken, a member of the Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes and Founder and General Manager, Nike N7, reflects on the impact that speaking up for your community can have for true representation, support and visibility.
Editor’s Note: On January 18, 2022, The Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship announced that Sam McCracken had been given the Foundation’s Social Intrapreneur of the Year 2022 award at the World Economic Forum. McCracken’s work with Nike N7 identified him as a leader who drives the development of new initiatives that address societal challenges. For more information on the prestigious award, visit the World Economic Forum’s website.
Twenty-four years ago, I was a forklift operator at Nike’s distribution center in Wilsonville, Oregon.
Today, I’m working at Nike’s World Headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon as the General Manager and Founder of Nike N7, a division dedicated to supporting Native American and Indigenous youth and getting them moving.
This reality happened because Nike saw and heard me, and now empowers me to raise up my community to be heard and seen.
The journey started while I was at the Wilsonville warehouse. As a youth basketball coach and member of the Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes, I realized there was a bigger opportunity to give back to my community through the power of sport. I spoke up to leadership about this, and Nike gave me the platform and resources I needed to make a difference
To begin, I was asked to help revitalize Nike’s Native American Employee Network, one of eight employee groups (collectively known as NikeUNITED) that serve to advance the development of their members; promote cultural awareness; and demonstrate our company’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion.
I also knew we could be doing more externally to better represent and support the Indigenous community. So I developed a business plan that would potentially widen Nike’s consumer base while also improving the health and well-being of Native American and Indigenous communities across North America. Inspired by the Native American wisdom of the Seven Generations, which teaches that “In our every deliberation, we must consider the impact of our decisions on the next seven generations,” we named the program N7. Our goal was to bring sport — and all the benefits that come with it — to the community with an understanding that each generation of athletes we cultivate inspires the next.
I started to lead Nike’s Native American Business in 2000, and we developed our N7 product line shortly thereafter. Between 2009 and 2021, the Nike N7 Fund awarded more than $8 million in grants, administered by the Charities Aid Foundation of America, to more than 270 communities and organizations that work with Native American youth. The Until We All Win community investment program continues the legacy of N7, in partnership with Nike’s Native American Network. Earlier this month, Nike recommended 13 organizations to receive grants to deliver programs that increase physical activity, support education and career development, and provide essential healthcare services for Native American and Indigenous communities across North America.
Visibility is power, and sport provides a platform for representation like no other. I want our youth to look at sport and see themselves as athletes. Because if you can see it, you can be it.
That’s why I’m thrilled that, in honor of Native American Heritage Month 2021, Nike is sharing its platform with me and two other incredible Indigenous athletes: Brooke Simpson and Madison Hammond. Brooke is a member of the Haliwa-Saponi Tribe and, in line with Nike’s work to expand the definition of sport and athlete, is looking to become the first Indigenous pop star after her success on America’s Got Talent. Madison’s passion for soccer was ignited in Albuquerque, New Mexico, driving her all the way to becoming the National Women’s Soccer League’s first Native American player. Her San Felipe Pueblo, Navajo and Black cultural roots and upbringing gave her a unique point of view and determination that she displays every time she steps on the field.
We are using our voices to tell our stories of strength in hopes that they will make all kids — especially our Native American and Indigenous youth — realize that when you see me, you see us.
Nike’s latest N7 campaign was photographed in locations meaningful to the featured athletes and their communities: the Haliwa-Saponi Tribal School in Hollister, North Carolina; the Bernalillo Soccer Tournament Complex in Bernalillo, New Mexico; and Nike World Headquarters. As part of its ongoing work to support Native American and Indigenous communities, Nike will be refurbishing the basketball court at Standing Rock and the arena at the Haliwa-Saponi Tribal School.