background image
USBWA President Vahe Gregorian presented Bronson Koenig with the Most Courageous Award for his efforts at the Standing Rock Sioux Nation on April 3 in Phoenix, Ariz. Photo Credit USBWA.

Wisconsin Basketball Star Bronson Koenig Visits Valley, Receives Award

Native American basketball star and Wisconsin Badgers senior guard Bronson Koenig (Ho-Chunk Nation) was in the Phoenix metro area recently to accept a prestigious award for his social activism against the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota.

On April 3, the same day North Carolina beat Gonzaga 71-65 in Glendale for the NCAA National Championship, the U.S. Basketball Writers Association (USBWA) presented Koenig with the Most Courageous Award at a luncheon in Phoenix.

The award is presented annually to a player, coach, official or administrator who has demonstrated extraordinary courage in amateur basketball. Past winners include legendary Tennessee women’s basketball coach Pat Summitt and NBA coach and former NBA player Steve Kerr, who received the award while playing basketball for the University of Arizona.

In 2016, Koenig spent some time in North Dakota, near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, protesting the pipeline.

“Bronson Koenig is a terrific basketball player and ambassador for the University of Wisconsin. He’s also Native American. That’s why he drove up to Standing Rock, North Dakota to be a part of a peaceful protest of the Dakota Access Pipeline,” USBWA President Vahe Gregorian said, before presenting Koenig with the award. “This is how he explained his stance to our colleague(s): ‘It’s two things, one is human rights and the other is drinking water. It’s all Lakota land. They’re putting a pipeline through Lakota land. I think the U.S. has made 566 treaties with Native Americans and not honored one of them. Water brings people life. It brings Mother Earth life. Native Americans have a spiritual connection to Mother Earth. We don’t own a certain piece of land. We’re here to be caretakers of the land and Mother Earth.’ Today we applaud University of Wisconsin for encouraging its athletes to speak their social conscience.”

Koenig spoke briefly after receiving the award. He said he accepted the award for all Native Americans continuing to battle every day.

“I get a lot of my courage from seeing what they go through on a daily basis,” he said. “Honestly, I was just trying to do what I felt in my heart was right and standing up for what I believe in. If nothing else, I hope I inspire somebody out there to also stand for what they believe in and what they believe is right, to do that and make the world a better place. It’s a big part of who I am. It’s a part of my identity. I’m very happy to be a role model to thousands of Native Americans throughout the whole country.”

After the award ceremony, Koenig spoke briefly with Au-Authm Action News. He was asked about inspiring Indian Country.

“I try to inspire Native youth and Native people to chase their dreams, and hopefully I show them that it is possible for a Native American to excel at whatever they want to do. And whether that’s basketball, [other] sports, music or whatever it is, it is possible to reach the highest stage. But it’s also going to take a lot of hard work,” Koenig said. “I feel the need to keep fighting for my people day in and day out.”

Late last year, along with his brother Miles and a friend, Koenig traveled with an 18-foot trailer full of donations. Koenig also visited Standing Rock and held basketball camps on the reservation and at the Water Protector campsites, playing on a more familiar “rez style” basketball court, all dirt.

Afterward, he wrote an essay for the popular first-person perspective online platform The Players’ Tribune, written by athletes. Koenig’s article was published in December and was titled “What I Found in Standing Rock.” It became the topic of many discussions and added to a movement when tensions were high. Native America was proud. They had a voice and a platform.

“I thought hosting those [basketball] camps [in Standing Rock] would help those kids put whatever was going on at camp and in their daily lives behind them for a couple hours and [just let them] play basketball,” said Koenig. “When I first heard about the Dakota Access Pipeline, I knew I had to do something. My platform [and social media] was a way to bring awareness.”

In March, Koenig’s college basketball career ended with a 1-point loss to Florida in the Sweet 16, one game after Koenig led the Badgers to a win over No. 1 seed Villanova. He averaged almost 15 points a game during his senior year. Koenig finished his career with two Final Four appearances and as the school’s all-time 3-point leader.

At 6-foot-4 and 193 pounds, Koenig is preparing for a potential professional basketball career. He’s known for his shooting, including a buzzer-beater shot to win a key game in the 2016 NCAA tournament. The Badger Herald, a student newspaper at the University of Wisconsin, reported that Koenig has potential to play professional basketball and will most likely spend his rookie season in the NBA Development League.