Sr. Director of Live Presentation Shawn Martinez Represented The Valley at Native American Smithsonian Events in Washington D. C.

Shawn Martinez ran through his typical preparations: reviewing setlists and ensuring his equipment was ready. However, the Senior Director of Live Presentation did not find himself in his regular station at center court where he conducts all the sights and sounds on gameday.

Instead, Martinez was 2,300 miles away from Footprint Center as a guest performer at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian to celebrate Native veterans and the official dedication of the National Native American Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C. Growing up in Window Rock, Arizona on the Navajo Nation, the moment was more significant to Martinez than he initially expected, in the best way possible.

"The weekend-long event was unbelievable, quite a tribute to the Native American veterans that have served our country. I'm blessed I was able to be a part of something that big," said Martinez.

"As soon as I got to the airport, I was like, this is bigger than I thought it would be. There were probably 30 Native American veterans on the plane with me. It was really cool to see them knowing how much dedication and time they put into serving our country. I was just blown away.”  

Martinez performed as DJ Tribal Touch – his stage name – throughout Veteran’s Day weekend (November 11 – 13) at events highlighting the service and sacrifice of Native veterans and their families. Today, American Indians serve in the armed forces at a higher rate than any other demographic. Since 9/11, nearly 19 percent of Native Americans have served in the armed forces, compared to an average of 14 percent of all other ethnicities.

The opportunity for the Diné DJ at such events was special. The National Native American Veterans Memorial dedication presented Martinez the opportunity to pay homage to his family members who served in the United States Armed Forces:

  • His father, Larry Martinez, United States Army Paratrooper, 82nd Airborne
  • His brother, Elliot Martinez, United States Air Force
  • His uncle John Pinto, United States Marine Corps Navajo Code Talker and New Mexico State Senator
  • His uncle Wilson Pinto, United States Army
  • His uncle Benny Pinto, United States National Guard
  • His second cousin, John V. Goodluck, United States Marine Corps Navajo Code Talker

Adding to the coolness factor was that Martinez’s performances were broadcasted online to reach Tribal Nations across the country and abroad.

Left: Shawn Martinez with Governor Stephen Roe Lewis of the Gila River Indian Community. Right: Martinez with Governor Lewis and attendees.

The timing of the moment added to the occasion. November marked Native American Heritage Month and the unveiling of the Suns ORIGINATIV platform and City Edition uniform honoring the 22 Tribal Nations of Arizona. The campaign was more than two and half years in the making and Martinez, alongside Senior Director of Marketing Graham Wincott and Creative Director Chris Grasha, was at the forefront of bringing the meaningful program to life. Martinez donned the eye-catching turquoise jersey throughout the weekend, drawing the attention of many attending the weekend’s events.  

“It was cool to represent our organization in that way with the first sighting of the jersey, I was likely one of the only people who had it in my possession on the East Coast. It was awesome to tell the story, all the research Graham and I did starting two and a half years ago to that day, it all came to fruition. It was meant to be that I was there because I could tell people what was happening, how the jerseys came about and everything about the uniform launch. I think they were even more blown away with how much I was involved in the whole uniform rollout,” said Martinez.

“I was a branch of the Suns reaching out to the Native Americans that weren't just in Arizona, but across the country,” he added.

The trip provided Martinez an unparalleled occasion to connect with his community on a stage as large as the NBA’s. A signal that Martinez’s attendance was meant to be came during a stop at a fast food restaurant of all places.

“I’m in McDonald's and suddenly I think I hear my name being called. Someone is shouting ‘Shawn!’ I think to myself, ‘who knows me in Washington D.C.?’”

The patron calling out? It was Ron Begay from Chinle, Arizona, Martinez’s childhood baseball coach where he lived in his early childhood years.

“He was there with his dad, Thomas H. Begay, a Navajo Code Talker. Just unbelievable. He knew my dad, my mom Elsie Pinto Martinez and my uncle John Pinto, the late Senator John Pinto, who was also training to be a Navajo Code Talker. It was meant to be that I was there,” said Martinez.

Left: Shawn Martinez with Haida StarEagle, a member of the Matinecock Tribe, who became the first Native American woman to serve as an intelligence officer for the U.S. Space Force. Right: Martinez with his childhood coach Ron Begay and Navajo Code Talker Thomas H. Begay

When asked what he’s looking forward to the rest of the season, Martinez replied, “amplifying the voices of all 22 tribes.”

With seven remaining ORIGINATIV games throughout the remainder of the 22-23 season, the Suns will continue to pay tribute to the cultures, traditions and native languages of the 22 Tribal Nations of Arizona. And each night, at center court, DJ Tribal Touch will be at the helm leading the way on and off the court.


In partnership with Native peoples and their allies, the National Museum of the American Indian fosters a richer shared human experience through a more informed understanding of Native peoples. The Washington, D.C. museum is located on the National Mall at Fourth Street and Independence Avenue S.W.


The National Native American Veterans Memorial sits on the grounds of the National Museum of the American Indian and was commissioned by Congress to give “all Americans the opportunity to learn of the proud and courageous tradition of service of Native Americans in the Armed Forces of the United States.” Native Americans have served in every major military conflict in the U.S. since the Revolutionary War. This is the first national landmark in Washington, D.C., to focus on the contributions of American Indians, Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians who have served in the military.

The memorial was designed by Harvey Pratt (Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma), a multimedia artist, retired forensic artist and Marine Corps Vietnam veteran. The design features an elevated stainless steel circle resting on a carved stone drum. It also incorporates water for ceremonies, benches for gatherings and four lances where veterans, family members, tribal leaders and others can tie cloths for prayers and healing.

Major support for the National Native American Veterans Memorial has been provided by The Boeing Company, Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes, The Chickasaw Nation, Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies, Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, Poarch Band of Creek Indians, San Manuel Band of Mission Indians and Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community. The memorial has also been widely supported by tribal governments and tribal veterans organizations, as well as by individuals, corporations, foundations and other organizations. 

The museum will continue to raise monies for an endowment for the memorial. The $5 million endowment will ensure the memorial’s continued upkeep and provide funds for ongoing programming, interpretation and events about Native American veterans.