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Ascension Harjo will be hoop dancing at the opening ceremony before lacing up his sneakers to compete in the basketball competition. (Photo courtesy Jennifer Martin) Whether it’s hoop dancing or shooting hoops, 15-year-old Ascension Harjo excels at both and during the 2017 North American Games, he’ll get the opportunity to showcase both of his talents.

Harjo will be hoop dancing at the opening ceremony before lacing up his sneakers to compete in the basketball competition.

"It means a lot to be part of an event that’s been going on for so many years and has so much tradition," Harjo said.

A member of the Six Nations , Harjo learned both hoop dancing and basketball at a very young age. He was just two years old the first time he saw hoop dancing. That’s when he was travelling with his mom and dad throughout France because his father, Adrian Harjo, was hoop dancing on a tour.

"Watching and being around this culture and dancing, I just took after it and started dancing. I was hoop dancing. My dad showed me how to do everything."

A member of the Kickapoo and Seminole Nations, Adrian was born in Oklahoma and grew up in Kansas City. He remembers some of the first times Ascension was hoop dancing.

"To watch a two-year-old kid pick up hoops, just three of them, and he’d put one in his mouth and make designs all mimicking dad. The crowd went nuts. Let the baby dance," Adrian said.

And Ascension has been dancing ever since that time. But while he was in the gymnasium watching his father dance and while he was practising, he was also honing other hoop skills.

"Whenever we’d take breaks we’d be playing basketball too," Ascension Harjo said. Natural athlete

Harjo had the difficult decision of choosing between whether he wanted to compete with the basketball team at the Games or compete in track and field.

"I had to go with basketball," he said.

While he’s been playing hoops for most of his life, Harjo has taken it to a different level since entering high school. He’s a point guard and credits his hoop dancing for being able to stay in peak form on the court.

"In hoop dancing you’re staying low for at least seven minutes depending on how long the routine is," explained Harjo. "That’s a lot of cardio so it helps me stay on top of breathing and running." (Photo courtesy Jennifer Martin) And his father isn’t ever too far away from being a coach both for hoops and hoop dancing.

"Sometimes he gets on me for certain things or moves I do wrong but after it really helps," he said. "He’s always telling me to drive or shoot a three during basketball."

Adrian Harjo points out the original importance of the hoop dance.

"It was originally a healing dance perfected by tribes in the southwest," he said. "It’s a very entertaining dance to watch. There are hoop dancers out there who will wow you with some of the things they can do."Looking good is a part of the performance as well, and that’s where Ascension Harjo’s mother, Jennifer Martin, comes in."My mom she’s a really big help too," Harjo said. "She makes a lot of my regalias and helps with me with my track and field. She basically makes it all work."The family has a lot to be grateful for when it comes to hoops."I always tell Ascension if I never picked up those hoops I would never have never learned this dance and traveled the world," Adrian Harjo said. "And most importantly I would have never met your mother and […]

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