Billy Mills Decries Lack of Recognition
Billy Mills decries lack of recognition Native Americans' concerns not acknowledged, he says
Rob McDonald - Staff Writer
Spokane _ A skinny Oglala Sioux runner named Billy Mills had kept pace with the leaders, but he was ready to quit.
In the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo, Mills was in fourth place in the 10,000-meter race, but the pace was too fast.
"There's no way I can continue," Mills said to himself. "I should quit."
Mills sprinted into the lead, and planned to step off the track. With a lap to go, Mills was still in the lead, but in heavy traffic another runner shoved Mills and he lost the lead.
Mills could have settled for third, not bad for an orphan who grew up on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. But with 100 yards left, Mills began repeating to himself, "I can win. I can win."
He remembers the sound of his heart beating as his body, mind and spirit came together. He sprinted by his two opponents and broke the tape first.
"That moment is so fresh in my mind. I truly felt I had wings on my feet," Mills told a crowd of 500 people at Eastern Washington University on Monday afternoon.
Mills played film footage of the race, which brought cheers from the crowd of students, teachers, off-campus visitors and a few dozen Native Americans. They all laughed at the audio clip of a shrieking announcer overcome by Mills' victory. The race is frequently described as one of the best in history.
Now a touring speaker and businessman, Mills talked about looking inward to find your passions because that leads to desire and self-motivated work, and then success.
He encouraged everyone to embrace four traits: bravery, wisdom, generosity and fortitude. Then he called a woman up on stage.
Charlene Teters, a Spokane tribal member, was featured in a documentary called "In Whose Honor," which details her protests against the use of Indians as sports team mascots.
Mills described Teters as a hero who has helped his battles against AriZona Beverage Co., which produces Crazy Horse malt liquor. Crazy Horse is a hero to the Lakota Tribe and respected by many of the country's 2.2 million American Indians.
"Why do we ignore 2 million people in America and their hero?" Mills said.
In an interview after his talk, Mills spoke candidly about the racial challenges American Indians encounter in the United States.
The challenge of having his abilities questioned constantly because he was Native American was depicted in the 1983 movie about his life, "Running Brave."
He said he's found that women especially relate to his struggles in the movie.
"They identify with the subtle assault on their character for no other reason than they are female," Mills said.
In 1988, Mills said the Coca-Cola Co. approached him about doing endorsements until a vice president called him with bad news. There's not enough Native Americans in the country to warrant an Indian pitchman, Mills said he was told. Adding to the hurt was the fact that the vice president was an African American, Mills said.
"If I was white, I could have been hired. If I was black, I could have been hired," Mills said.
Mills eventually landed a contract with Coca-Cola in 1998, he said, but he was hired to speak at one event, which was a Native American conference.
Mills said there's a growing movement to encourage President Bush to appoint American Indians to higher judicial posts.
"We need a Native American on the United States Supreme Court," Mills said. He suggested John Echohawk, the founder of the Native American Rights Fund, a legal agency in Boulder, Colo.
With Indians in high legal posts, everyone will be forced to acknowledge the American Indian communities and their concerns, Mills said.
"They don't see us unless they absolutely have to," Mills said.