Michael Linklater wears his culture proudly on basketball's world stage
FIBA basketball star voted 2014 CBC Future 40 People’s Choice Award
Michael Linklater's connection to his culture guides him wherever he goes.
And he's not done going places yet.
Linklater is one of the top 3x3 players in Canada ranked by the International Basketball Federation's 3x3 Basketball trackers — an especially-impressive achievement considering Linklater didn't begin playing basketball until he was about 12 years old.
It was at recess at Saskatoon's St. Mary's school when Linklater said he remembers going outside to see a fresh basketball court.
"All of the kids gathered around the court and there was the older kids who were playing. And that's something that kind of inspired me; the environment that it created, the atmosphere with a lot of spectators."
Linklater, who said he was gifted with coordination and athleticism, began playing basketball with his friends. In a low-income neighbourhood, it was something everyone could do.
"All we needed was a ball and any court that we could find or any basket."
Playing with better players only makes you better.- Michael Linklater
Linklater said he could notice the work he was putting in to become a better player was showing up on the court. As he reached high school, he got to choose which school he would go to and play at. He began playing for the provincial team, played at the North American Indigenous Games, and travelled to the United States to play in men's tournaments.
"Playing with better players only makes you better."
He was able to continue playing through five years of post-secondary, even though he admits he didn't necessarily like school — he didn't want to do anything but play basketball.
An Indigenous man at the top level
Now, as part of his Saskatoon 3x3 team, Linklater gets to travel and play on courts around the world, not only representing Canada, but representing Indigenous people.
"I always wear my culture proudly. I'm a proud Nehiyaw so everywhere I go, being Indigenous is a part of who I am."
Being Indigenous did bring its challenges on the court; Linklater, who is from Thunderchild First Nation, said he had to face a lot of racism and stereotypes.
However, Linklater said his grandparents raised him with culture having a strong foothold in their home. He said he saw that people who his grandparents were helping often struggled with their own sense of identity and culture.
That's one of the reasons, Linklater said, he shares his message of culture with people. One of the ways in which Linklater does that is through Boys with Braids, a campaign Linklater began to educate people about the cultural significance of hair.
Linklater said he knew something needed to be done when his own sons came home from school with stories of being teased about their own hair — something Linklater himself faced growing up.
"[The campaign] was solely there for the young men and to help encourage and support them on their journey through life growing long hair because each day it's a battle for them. There's days that they face where they want to cut their hair, not because they don't like the hair but because they're being teased and they want the teasing to stop."
Linklater said it's important for people to understand how severe it is for an Indigenous boy to be teased or have his hair pulled.
"There's a lot of people with open mind and they want to hear what we have to say as Indigenous people and to turn them into allies where they can voice our opinions in circles or behind doors that sometimes Indigenous people are not welcome or just not there."
While Linklater will talk about nearing the end of his basketball playing career, he has a smile on his face has he talks about the possibility of playing on a new court — the Olympics.
In June, the International Olympic Committee added 15 new events to the bill for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, one of them being 3x3 basketball.
"It's always been, I think, a dream of every player to represent their country at the Olympics," Linklater said. "This is more of a possibility than it ever has so making sure that I'm taking care of myself in terms of my injuries and just making sure that I'm staying in shape."
Linklater said, though, if going to the 2020 games doesn't work out, he looks forward to finishing his education, completing a degree in an area like Indigenous studies or social work.
He said, ultimately, his goal is to help create change. He hopes to continue to inspire others as well.
When he goes back to the neighbourhood he grew up in, Linklater said he sometimes sees some of the men he grew up with who are currently struggling.
"It really means a lot and warms my heart when these men are stopping me and congratulating me and telling me how proud I've made them. "
CBC Future 40 unites people with same goals
Linklater said being recognized with the 2014 CBC Future 40 People's Choice Award encourage him, reassuring him that he was on the right path. He said it made him realize that a lot of people notice the work he's doing.
"[You are part of] a number of people who are doing great work in the community, you both share the same title although it may not be along the same lines as you, but you know that you're both working to make this province a better place."
Nominations for Future 40 2017 are open from Oct. 9 to 17.