Senior Wisconsin basketball star Bronson Koenig is planning to drive 11 hours to visit a camp of protesters near Bismarck, North Dakota, this weekend, according to a Yahoo Sports report.
The camp is one of several set up in North Dakota late this summer to protest an oil pipeline that threatens sacred Native American tribal lands. The protesters picked up momentum in their fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline last week when three federal departments halted construction near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation.
According to the Yahoo Sports story, Koenig, a member of the Ho-Chunk tribe, will be joined by his brother, Miles, and trainer Clint Parks on the trip. The story said Koenig and Parks are hoping to organize a basketball clinic for Native American kids on Saturday. They’re in the process of finding a gym big enough to accommodate a large turnout.
“I hope to bring awareness to the cause and give everyone there a little bit of joy and a little bit of hope,” Koenig told Yahoo Sports. “I want to take time out of my schedule to pray with them and protest with them and show them that I’m right alongside them. They’ve always had my back whether I have an awful game or a great game, and this is my way of repaying the favor.”
Koenig was a third-team All-Big Ten pick last season as the Badgers' second leading scorer and was the state's high school player of the year at La Crosse Aquinas. He started tweeting about the protest in late August, mixing video from his workouts in with footage from the North Dakota protests, including one video that shows security guards using attack dogs on protesters.
Parks is quoted in the story as equating Koenig's status among Native Americans to star NBA player LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers. Parks said people with no connection to the Badgers show up to their road games wearing Koenig's jersey.
“In the native American community, I would compare his platform to a LeBron or Carmelo (Anthony of the New York Knicks),” Parks told Yahoo Sports. “For his community, that’s what he is to them. I’ve had the opportunity to work a couple different camps at reservations with Native American kids this summer, and these kids are not saying they want to be LeBron or Steph (Curry of the Golden State Warriors). They’re saying they want to be Bronson Koenig. They can’t really identify with LeBron or Steph. But they see Bronson, and they think, ‘That’s me. If he can do it, I can do it.'”
According to a February 2015 story by Jeff Potrykus of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Koenig first embraced being a role model to Native American kids and speaking out against Indian mascots in his sophomore year.