New Suns Uniform Shines Light, Brings Hope to Tribal Youth

Candace Hamana (Hopi, Navajo) talks with players and tribal youth members about the significance of the new City Edition uniforms and what it means to represent Arizona's Indigenous communities.

Penelope Miller, age 13, remembers the first time she saw the word “sun” written in her Native Cocopah language emblazoned on the newly installed basketball court at Footprint Center, the home of the Phoenix Suns.

The word “Ña” was placed alongside 21 other tribal languages; some she recognized, others she didn’t.

“I cried tears of happiness and pride when I first saw the basketball court. I didn’t get a lot of opportunities like this growing up and sometimes living on the reservation can feel isolating,” she said. “It was incredible to see my Native language displayed in such a grand way.”

Miller, youth, and young adults from the other 21 Tribal Nations were invited to attend a photo shoot on October 14 to meet Suns players and represent their respective tribes for a program called OrigiNativ. The program includes the team’s new City Edition uniform that honors Arizona tribes and a community engagement program that extends beyond the season.

Gila River Indian Community Governor Stephen Lewis applauded the franchise for creating the blueprint on how to work with tribes and described the Suns as heroes who offer hope to Indigenous youth like Miller. Suns point guard Chris Paul agrees with Gov. Lewis and shared his perspective as a player and a father.

“It’s all about representation to tell you the truth. I hope I get the chance to visit one of these reservations, see these kids and show them that we care about them,” Paul said. “I’m thankful Gov. Lewis came and spoke to our team today. The new jerseys are more meaningful when we get the education behind the symbolism and what it means to represent Indigenous communities in Arizona.”

The new City Edition uniform has been in the works for the past two and a half years. It includes collaboration with all 22 sovereign tribes, Nike’s N7, the Heard Museum, Phoenix Indian Center and Cahokia SocialTech and ArtSpace. Education and respect are at the forefront of this program according to Suns Senior Marketing Director Graham Wincott.

“It’s been a long journey so it was a real thrill to see the players embrace it so much,” Wincott said. “We want to be a team that elevates voices and gets people intrigued to learn about these cultures. We don’t want to position Indigenous people as mascots and appropriating culture in a terrible way, we want to do the opposite of that. Governor Lewis and Shawn [Martinez] shared the history and the significance of this collaboration in a heartfelt way that really resonated with our players.”

Suns forward Cam Johnson hopes to inspire youth to achieve anything they set their minds to, even if it’s a dream bigger than playing professional basketball. He wants Native youth to know he sees them, he honors them and he believes they can play, learn and lead at the highest level. 

Lourdes Pereira is a junior at Arizona State University studying for a double major in Justice Studies and American Indian Studies. The 21-year-old is a former Miss Indigenous ASU and a member of the Tohono O’odham Nation. Pereira was invited to the photo shoot to represent her tribal community and currently sits on the American Indian advisory council for the Arizona Education Department.

“I think when our youth see the Phoenix Suns leading the way, wearing this jersey on game day, and showing the country that they represent us, it’s going to be a powerful feeling. This is something that has never been done on this scale. I think that sense of pride is going to spread beyond the state of Arizona. It has the potential to make a positive impact for Indigenous youth around the world,” Pereira said.