Indigenous Influence: Athlete Edition

Native Max Magazine sat down with two prominent Indigenous athletes to discuss how their culture impacts their performance.
Photography: History Making Pictures- Getty Images | kleanbean_



2024 is an Olympic year, which got us excited to discuss athleticism through an Indigenous lens with two of today’s most talented and inspiring Native Athletes.

Olympic medallist Janee’ Kassanavoid is an American track and field athlete who specializes in hammer throw. We sat down with her to ask her about her athletic and cultural journey and what’s in store for her future.

Photography: Matt Parker (IG: @mattflynnparker)

Marʉawe! I am Janee’ Kassanavoid and I am Nʉmʉnʉʉ (comanche).

NMM: What started your journey? What got you to where you are now, but also, what helped you decide on this path of life?

My journey started when I was very young, playing every sport imaginable and growing up in a very competitive environment, being the youngest of three siblings. Our household was always on the go- every weekend at the ball fields or at the ball courts. I first started playing soccer, then t-ball, cheerleading, basketball, gymnastics, volleyball, competitive cheer and dance, softball, and track and field. I grew up in a very small town about 40 miles north of Kansas City, Missouri. As many people know, competitive sports opportunities come with a cost. Having lost my father at a young age, when I was nine years old, my mother battled and carried the burden of raising four kids on her own. Despite the financial disparities, my mother always supported us in our athletic and academic endeavors and made it a priority for us to focus solely on that. We knew the importance of an athletic scholarship to ease the stress and have the opportunity to continue higher education without the fear of debt. I watched and admired my older three siblings get offered D1 scholarships to pursue their athletic careers, and it motivated me even more to follow in their footsteps. Therefore, I decided to commit to athletics at the next level and signed with the Johnson County Community College Track and Field program.

I didn’t start throwing hammers until I was 18 years old, a freshman in college. I was recruited for the shot put and the discus, and little did I know that something that I didn’t know existed would now be my entire world. Now, just 11 years later, I am one of the best hammer throwers in the world. 

Ultimately, watching my mother carry and embody such strength and resilience through the most difficult time in her life, doing the best she could, empowers me and inspires me every day to continue chasing my dreams—defying all odds. Hopefully, one day, I can give back to her what she so selflessly gave to me, showing me to never give up. 

NMM: How does your culture play into your work?

I am a 2x world medalist in the hammer, but to me, the most powerful and beautiful thing is my culture and the pride that comes with being Indigenous. My father was full-blooded Comanche, so after losing him- it’s how I hold our relationship and connection by getting closer to my heritage and learning about where I come from. I choose to represent my culture on the biggest stages so that I can be a leader and a role model for the next generation of young athletes and young women. To show that WE ARE STILL HERE. That with hard work, determination, and resilience, anything is possible. I hope to continue to break barriers, empower women to see the beauty in strength, and inspire anyone to know they are worthy enough to chase any dream.

NMM: What has been the most rewarding part of your journey so far?

Making history in 2022, becoming the First Native American Woman to medal at the Track and Field World Championships with a BRONZE place finish was the BEST moment of my career. But because of that, I want to connect with my Native peoples and communities, give back, be a part of events, and share my story. That has been the most rewarding and has allowed me to continue to learn and continue to grow as a woman and as an athlete to keep striving for greatness.

NMM: What’s next for you? Anything you would like to promote to our audience? 

I am heading into the final preparations for the USATF Olympic Trials next week in Eugene, OR. I will be competing on June 21st (qualifying) and hopefully June 23rd (finals) in the hopes of making my FIRST Olympic Team for the summer games in Paris. I am honored and humbled to represent Comanche Nation and tribes all over the world- it sits heavy on my heart but ignites a fire in my soul to go out and compete, and I am so excited to continue writing my story and hopefully to continue writing HISTORY.

Photography: Jason S (IG: @notafraid2fail)

To keep up with Janee’ Kassanavoid and her story, follow her on Instagram and TikTok.

Chief Minister Nebetcher Hakim Bey (Cherokee/Taino) is a vegan pro bodybuilder who specializes in master training and strength and conditioning coaching. We sat down with him to discuss how his culture and lifestyle influence his work.

Photography: Shane Amoroson (website)

NMM: What started your journey? What got you to where you are now, but also, what helped you decide on this path of life?

My journey started back when I was introduced to calisthenics. The mere fact that I couldn’t do one pull-up made me look at things differently. It made me want to master pulls and dips. Many years later, and after several hundreds of pull-ups and dips, I decided to step up my credibility and looked into getting certified as a personal trainer. I started coaching and helping people get their professional status in bodybuilding. I asked my athletes to send me some of their awards to create a mural of them, and they all told me, “You stay in shape; go get your own!” So, after that, I decided to do just that. Fast forward, I became a Master training, strength and conditioning coach, and head bodybuilding Judge, and I gained my Professional status in Bodybuilding and Classic physique.

NMM: You’re a very prominent figure in the vegan bodybuilding world. How does veganism play into your lifestyle and work, and how do you relate your culture to the lifestyle?

My ancestors are plant-based and one with animals. It wasn’t until conquers mixed with our people that eating animals came into play. My bloodline traces back to the ancient Kemetic high priest. So, with that being said, I slowly introduced more plant-based foods into my client’s lifestyles. Being able to accomplish my Professional Bodybuilding accolades as a fully plant-based athlete allows everyone to see that it is possible to compete at a high level.

It has been a great experience to see many people consider being vegan after witnessing me do it and slowly gaining muscle year by year by staying consistent. I deal with a lot of people who eat meat who want to get healthy and transition over as well. I have assisted many vegans in becoming pros in bodybuilding. As well as prepping athletes for the Natural Olympia, Arnold, Mr. America, the Presidential Cup, Yortan Cup champions, Mr. and Ms. USA, and many other professional stages in the Bodybuilding world, as well as NFL, MLB, UFC, Top Rank Pro Boxers, Pro wrestlers, BJJ world tournament champions and UBA pro basketball league.

NMM: What has been the most rewarding part of your journey so far?

In addition to reaching my Professional status in bodybuilding, winning 29 championship titles, and coming in second at the Mr. Universe, I earned my Honorary Doctorial degree in Kinesiology and Exercise Physiology, received The Presidential Lifetime Achievement Award from President Joe Biden Jr. of the United States, and became the first in my family to achieve these accolades.

NMM: What’s next for you? Anything you would like to promote to our audience? 

What’s next is continuing to get booked for all the major events in the fitness industry, as I have been for the past years. Being a sponsored professional athlete has its perks, but it’s satisfying when I get the call to be me. I have been working with Olympia Gear as the media and Press director, locking in interviews with the best professional athletes in the world. I will be at the 60th Mr. Olympia, which is the bodybuilding Olympics. Besides this, I am working directly with my tribal family and continuing nation-building. I now have the opportunity with the Indigenous Royal charter, Harvest Christian University, to not only create courses for certifications to be issued through the University but also to create a course for people to graduate with a master’s degree under my teachings, as I will be the professor in this particular field. 

I am very excited about becoming more spiritually connected with my tribal family, establishing treaties with other tribes, and expanding our reach to other tribes as we assist them in their prosperity as Private Sector Indigenous Nationals.

To learn more about Nebetcher Hakim Bey’s journey, follow him on Instagram.