When a car crash killed his stepmother, seriously injured his brother and sister and put him in a wheelchair at the age of 11, Noah Blue Elk Hotchkiss could have given up.
Instead, he adopted a path of pursuing his love of sports and using it to help other disabled Native American youth, a path that led him to the White House at the end of August. Noah was given the responsibility of setting the context for a gathering entitled, “Generation Indigenous: Raising Impact with Innovative and Proven Strategies, Philanthropic Native Youth Summit.”
Generation Indigenous is an initiative started by President Barack Obama after he and his wife, Michelle, visited the Standing Rock Sioux Indian Nation in North Dakota in 2015. While the conference was attended mostly by adults from tribes across the nation, it was about research and endeavors to provide opportunities for Native American youth in areas including wellness, environment, education and social justice.
Noah, 17, the son of Jason Hotchkiss and Kimberly Armstrong, is a member of the Southern Ute, Southern Cheyenne and Caddo Nation tribes. In April, he was named a Champion of Change by the Center for Native American Youth and, in 2015, he received a $10,000 DreamStarter grant from Olympian Billy Mills’ foundation for his initiative to hold wheelchair basketball camps for disabled Native Americans.
“I remember waking up in the hospital unable to feel my legs, and it shattered my dreams, because all I wanted in life was to become a stand-up comedian,” he told the group with a grin. “Involvement in adaptive sports changed how I felt about myself and my character, how I looked at myself. I went from a person with a disability to a serious athlete.”
Noah credits the Durango Adaptive Sports Association for his transformation, but he wanted to talk about the transformation he has seen in the wheelchair basketball camps he has held in places such as Gallup, New Mexico. He has called on his teammates from the Phoenix Banner Wheelchair Suns, which is ranked No. 4 in the National Wheelchair Basketball Association’s varsity division, to run the camps with him.
“We had individuals who couldn’t transfer (in-and-out of the wheelchair) by themselves or even push their chairs,” he said. “And we were demonstrating levels of athleticism they hadn’t dreamed were possible.”
Some attendees found the courage to go back to college, others learned to access more resources to improve their quality of life, he said.
“It makes me think about what my grandmother used to tell me,” Noah said. “We can all rise if we push one another and help one another. We are out there, we are strong, and most importantly, we have hope for the future, or else why would we try?”