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Rez Ball

May 3, 2023


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On the Navajo Nation, basketball is a big deal. So when Quiana Dishface had the opportunity to join her elementary school’s league, she scrounged together the $50 she needed for the jersey and enrollment fee.

“Once I picked up a basketball and once I realized that it’s something that I want to do, it felt like my new safe zone, my new place, my new home,” Quiana says in this episode.

The type of basketball Quiana played isn’t the traditional style that many of us are familiar with. This version of the game is called rez ball.

“Rez ball is run-and-gun, flashy basketball. You have to be sneaky, you have to be fast,” Quiana says.

A girl wearing a mask at basketball practice.
Quiana Dishface at basketball practice.

Quiana, it turned out, was really good at rez ball, and quickly became a role model in her community. Everyone would come to games to cheer on her and her team. But as she got older, she realized that if she wanted to continue to pursue basketball and play in college, she’d need to take her talents off the reservation – which meant going to a high school 40 miles away.

Adapting to her new school wasn’t easy. Quiana faced racism on and off the court. Kids treated her differently and wouldn’t sit near her or talk to her. When her coaches subbed her in for a white teammate, the teammate’s parents complained.

“Her parents were furious, they were like, ‘How come you’re subbing in a girl of color for my daughter?’” Quiana recalls.

Her coach defended her, saying that Quiana was one of the best players there, and that she wasn’t going to teach the girls on the team to be prejudiced toward somebody because of the color of their skin. But even with her coach’s support, it was still hard.

At this school, they didn’t play rez ball. Quiana had to adapt to a new style of play, one that was slower than what she was used to. She found the slower pace frustrating, boring. And she continued to struggle with the racist attitudes of her classmates and their parents.

But things started to change after Quiana’s coach called on her to tap into her rez ball skills to help their team win a game. They were near the end of the game and the team was down by just one point.

So her coach said, “Give the ball to Q.”

Thanks to her skills on the court and her magnanimity off the court, Quiana started to notice the attitudes shifting at school and in the community. To hear her full story, listen to “Rez Ball” now.

Girl posing with basketball, in while basketball uniform, smiling.
Quiana Dishface in her Rams uniform, the team she plays for at her college.

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Episode Transcript