Linklater hopes to inspire Indigenous youth as new face of Nike 'Rezball' campaign

A Cree athlete from Saskatchewan is being featured in a new international campaign for Nike athletic gear.

N7 collection gives back to First Nation communities through athletic funding

Michael Linklater is from the Thunderchild First Nation in Saskatchewan. He is now the face of Nike's N7 collection. (Nike)

Saskatchewan Rattler Michael Linklater, who plays in the Canadian Elite Basketball League, is the new face of the Nike N7 sneaker and athletic wear collection.  

Linklater said he had always envisioned himself being part of the campaign and "happily obliged" when the company contacted him. 

"I saw a number of their athletes and their ambassadors who they were recognizing and the values that N7 has is in alignment with a lot of the values that I have," he said.

"They believe that Indigenous children should be active and not sedentary and it's something that I've been working towards my entire life, helping Indigenous children become active."

Nike N7 started in 2009 with a goal to provide sport and physical activity programming to kids in First Nation communities in North America.

Growing up I didn't see many advertisements with First Nations or Indigenous people in it.- Michael Linklater

According to Nike, the N7 Fund has awarded more than $6.6 million in grants to 252 communities and organizations, reaching more than 437,000 Indigenous youth.

Michael Linklater said he never saw an Indigenous person in advertisements while he was growing up. He hopes to inspire Indigenous youth. Pictured: Linklater with fellow-professional basketball player Jude Schimmel. (Nike)

"I think traditionally Indigenous people were very nomadic and they were always active and with the way today's society is a lot of our people are very sedentary now," said Linklater.

The N7 fund gives communities the chance to apply for funding for sports iniatives, Linklater added.

Linklater is nêhiyaw from Thunderchild First Nation, Sask. and he grew up in Saskatoon's inner city.

He started playing basketball at age 11 and now he runs basketball camps and clinics for youth. He said he wants to lead by example, by having a healthy and active lifestyle.

He started his basketball career at Mount Royal Collegiate, helped the University of Saskatchewan Huskies claim their first and only national championship and is ranked the number one three-on-three basketball player in Canada, 13th in the world.

This year he was drafted to the Canadian Elite Basketball League's Saskatchewan Rattlers for their inaugural season. He may even be part of Team Canada when three-on-three makes its debut at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. 

Tinker Hatfield, who is well known for designing many of the Nike Air Jordan models, came on board for this year’s N7 summer collection to design two pairs. Pictured: Nike Zoom Heritage N7. (Nike)

Mainsteam Indigenous representation

Tinker Hatfield, who is well known for designing many of the Nike Air Jordan models, came on board for this year's N7 summer collection.

He designed two pairs, the Nike Zoom Heritage N7 and Nike Air Zoom Down Rock N7, a shoe that Taboo from The Black Eyed Peas, also helped create.

"It's ended up being one of my favorite [sic] projects at Nike," Hatfield wrote on the website. 

Linklater shot the ad on Venice beach over two days, right after competing in a World Cup qualifier in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Since its release, it has been met with support and fanfare on social media with people calling Linklater an inspiration and role model.  

"Growing up I didn't see many advertisements with First Nations or Indigenous people in it," Linklater said. 

"And I think with the up-and-coming generations to be able to have someone that looks like them in something this big is going to be inspiring for them to be able to see themselves in this capacity or even greater." 

Linklater said the design elements on each item have a cultural significance and make a powerful statement using inspiration from Indigenous art.

The collection is available at the Nike factory stores in Canada. 

About the Author

Alex Soloducha is a reporter for CBC Saskatchewan.