As we prepare for RES 2019, we are highlighting some of the people and businesses that will be at the largest economic development event in Indian Country. This week, we sat down with Sam McCracken, General Manager of Nike’s N7 Program, which supports organizations to provide sport and physical activity programming to kids in Native American and Aboriginal communities so that they can lead healthier, happier, and more successful lives. Since its inception in 2009, the N7 Fund has awarded $5.6 million in grants to 243 communities and organizations, reaching more than 420,000 youth. It was Sam’s vision that helped establish the program and led Nike to create a clothing line geared specifically to our community. Sam and Nike have been tremendous supporters of the National Center throughout the years. We hope you enjoy our conversation with him, and hope you get the chance to meet him at RES.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and Nike’s N7 Program?
I grew up on the Fort Peck Assiniboine/Sioux Reservation in Northeastern Montana. I played basketball in high school and later coached high school basketball for about 20 years, mostly in the San Francisco Bay area before moving to Oregon.
I started at Nike as a receiving clerk in 1997, and in 1999, I wrote a plan for how Nike can both provide Native American communities with access to Nike products and also promote tribal health and address Native American health disparities through physical activity. In 2000, Nike approved the plan and the program has since evolved, including the footwear line Nike Air Native N7 that was introduced in 2007.
In 2009, my initial vision was further realized with the N7 brand and N7 Fund. The most important thing for me and for Nike was to make sure we were giving back. With proceeds going to support youth sport and physical activity programs in Native communities across North America – over $5.6 million to date – I can confidently say that my vision is being realized.
N7 has been a big supporter of the National Center and RES. Can you describe that relationship and why it’s important to N7?
Nike wants to be the employer of choice for Native American job seekers. That’s why we are heavily involved in the Native Edge – the online job, training, and networking portal development by the National Center. This allows Nike to post jobs and find qualified employees. It’s an important tool for us and outreach to the Native American community.
Nike also supports the annual RES Scholarship Golf Tournament. The tournament is a great way to give back through physical activity, with proceeds going to a terrific cause – the National Center’s business scholarships awarded each fall. I will also be doing a breakout session at RES about the N7 Program and our work in Native communities. If you’re attending RES, I hope you’ll join me for the session.
What aspects of your role at and the work of N7 give you the most pride?
I really enjoy getting into the communities in which we work and seeing the impact of the N7 Program first-hand. Living in Beaverton [Oregon, where Nike is headquartered] can mean that I don’t always see progress on the reservations or Indian communities first hand. Visiting old friends and new partners allows me to not only see our work in action and further understand some of the challenges – and opportunities – our communities face.
A great example was a recent trip I took to the Flathead Reservation in Montana, where I watched the Arlee High School Warriors’ basketball team in action. They were wearing our gear with pride – which gave my own sense of accomplishment. It was really an eye-opening experience and a reminder of the vision I had two decades ago, and why our work is still so important today.
Do you have advice for aspiring Natives who want to make a difference in their communities?
As both a coach and in my current role, I tell people to “master the fundamentals.” Focus on the work you’re doing today, but focus on doing it well and it doing it the right way. Be passionate. Don’t be afraid to dream – I’m living and breathing proof of the fact that dreams and visions can come true if you work hard enough. But you have to be ready to move quickly and support your ideas when the time comes.
Tell us why you’re excited about attending RES this year?
It’s a very large conference with many people in attendance, which is always a feature. I enjoy being able to engage and interact with other community members regardless of their roles – be it economic development officers, tribal government officials, entrepreneurs, etc. It is always a great feeling and very rewarding to be around so many accomplished people, and people who share a goal of improving our community. And I really enjoy listening to inspiring speakers and seeing old friends like National Center President and CEO Chris James.