Native pride resonates through Menominee Nation Arena as Wisconsin Herd faces Grand Rapids Drive

By Tim Wohlers

OSHKOSH, WI – Many Native Americans felt a sense of pride as they walked through Menominee Nation Arena last month, just a few weeks after the facility opened. 
“It’s a really proud moment for us,” said Menominee tribal member Tony Waupochick.  “Everyone talks about negative things, and the news always broadcasts negative things.  Well, this is a positive thing that we can be proud of.” 
For his tribe purchased naming rights to the Oshkosh arena in October, at which point it officially became the ‘Menominee Nation Arena’. 
The stadium opened its doors the last week of November, and now serves as the home court of the Wisconsin Herd basketball team. 
“It’s a real honor to be part of this arena,” Waupochick said.  “Chief Oshkosh was one of our early chiefs, and the town is named after him.  So it’s a proud moment for the Menominee people.” 
Youth tribal member Sasanehseah Shawanokasic agreed. 
“It’s like we’re noticed more,” Shawanokasic said.  “We’re not silent anymore.  Now I can say, ‘I’m from Menominee and an arena’s named after my tribe.’ The fact that I can tell people that is something to be proud of.” 
Tribal members did not comment on other business opportunities, but one could expect the Menominee Casino Resort in Keshena to be featured in the new advertising space. 
Another source of native pride came during a Dec. 20 game against the Grand Rapids Drive, which has two Native American players on the team.  Rookie guard Bronson Koenig was born and raised in Wisconsin, and is an enrolled member of the Ho-Chunk tribe. 
“It feels great,” Koenig said of the homecoming.  “Growing up here and playing in college here, I haven’t left Wisconsin for a long period of time.  So it’s definitely nice to be back.” 
Koenig claimed to have no knowledge of the Menominee Nation’s investment, but said he was happy for his fellow tribal members nonetheless. 
“I didn’t even know that it was going to be called the Menominee Nation Arena,” Koenig said.  “But when we pulled up for shoot-around, it was pretty cool to see that on the side of the building.” 
The rookie guard invited almost 30 of his friends and family to the Wednesday-night game, where he would wind up scoring 14 points in 20.3 minutes of play.  That effort helped his team to a 111-104 upset over the Wisconsin Herd. 
He credited his performance to the Native presence in the arena that night. 
“It’s nice to have all that support from the Native community,” Koenig said. 
Teammate Derek Willis came from Kentucky, and is the other Native American player on Grand Rapids.  He graduated college in 2017, and was just grateful that he ended up on a team with another member of his demographic. 
“It’s really cool,” Willis said.  “At any games we go to, there’s usually a Native American tribe there or people who are Native American.  And it’s something that the younger kids can look up to.” 
Menominee’s youth tribal member shared similar thoughts.  She said that Koenig and Willis were role models to many Native American youth like herself. 
“Seeing two Native Americans actually go for it is inspiring,” Shawanokasic said, “and it makes you want to go for it.” 
The two indigenous athletes are scheduled to return to Menominee Nation Arena on Feb. 9, when Grand Rapids faces off against its division rival once again.