Haida Hero! Professional Basketball Star Damen Bell-Holter

Posted By PowWows.com May 12th, 2014 Last Updated on: May 12th, 2014

Interview by Dr. Dawn Karima, Native American Culture Editor

“You can take the boy out of the village, but you can't take the village out of the boy.”  Damen Bell-Holter, a 6-foot-9, 245-pound power forward, celebrates his Haida heritage with a tattoo that states his eternal connection to his ethnic heritage. We recently visited about his amazing journey from Alaska to the NBA and how he is blessed to be a blessing.

Q) Congratulations on a successful season! You sure are an inspiration to us all! Tell us about your professional basketball career so far?

A) Thank you. It's a dream come true. I mean, one day I'm playing…college hoops, overseas, all over the country, Germany, and I get a call from the Celtics, saying “Come to camp.”  It's been a great experience, playing pro ball. I've really improved my skills and been rewarded with All Rookie Team and Top 40 D-League. I'm excited! It's been a good season!

Q) Awesome! I'm so happy for you!What stands out to you about this season?

Haida Pro Ball Sensation Damen Bell-Holter!!!

Haida Pro Ball Sensation Damen Bell-Holter!!!

A) I work hard so I'll always have a job next year, whether it's here or overseas.  This season went well and I improved a lot.

Q) You will! You're on such a good path! Sounds like you've learned a lot! Care to share?

A) In Pro Ball, well all ball, really, the focus is always on Winning.  I joined The  Maine Red Claws, a D-League Team this season and the focus there is on winning, of course, but more on showcasing individual players and their skills.  That teaches you how to be a Pro and not get upset if the focus isn't always on you. I am always ready when my number is called, and I always act like a Pro. That opens doors!

Q) So does good character! I believe humility comes before honor! You have amazing natural talent, but I see the way your heart helps you play! That didn't just start, you've been strengthening your spirit for a long time now, right?

A) Absolutely! Growing up, Natives just like me were great ball players. Seeing these guys  play incredible ball, get to go off to college and then realize they aren't the big fish anymore , so they quit really motivated me. When I went to college, I was a Freshman playing with all these Seniors, but I didn't get discouraged. I worked hard and determined I wasn't going to be one of those guys who quit, gave up and went back home.  So, I pushed myself and made it work and became a recordholder at ORU.

Q) Wow! Wonderful! Is that the advice you give young players?

A)  Most basketball players are African American or Caucasian, so if you're a Native American player, you'll be looked at differently. Don't let that stop you. Go wherever you get the opportunity to play ball, even if you're the only Native there.

I get it. I tell young Native players, I came from what they come from and they get that.  Non Natives try to tell our players and Natives say, “They don't come from what we come from.”  But I do. They say, “He saw what we see, He's from where we're from.”  I tell them,  “It doesn't matter where you come from, you can make it. I come from where you come from and  I made it.  The world doesn't have time for excuses.”

Dreams come true for Damen Bell- Holter!!!

Dreams come true for Damen Bell- Holter!!!

Q) I love that! The World doesn't have time for excuses! You're right!

A) Yes! I don't want excuses.  I don't want to make excuses. I don't want to hear excuses.  Growing up, alcoholism, drug addiction and domestic violence were all around me and all in my family. Yet, it makes no sense for me to use those excuses  because there are a lot worse things that could have happened to me, but they didn't. Things could have been a lot worse,  but they weren't.

Q) Well, sometimes a bad start leads to a good finish! You have such a good attitude and outlook! Did you always know that basketball was your path?

A) Hydaburg, my hometown, is in Southeast Alaska. People are always telling me that they come from a small town, but mine on Prince of Wales Island, is really isolated. The closest Walmart is 3 hours away by ferry.  The only way in or out is by plane or by ferry.

In Hydaburg, it didn't even seem possible for me to play college ball, much less Pro ball, because it's so foreign. Things like that just don't happen.

Q) But they DID happen! They're happening to YOU! That's quite a journey! My home is in a small town, Cherokee, NC, but you're  a  REALLY small town success story!

A) Yes! That's why it's so humbling to see so much support for my career from all over the country, from Canada supporting me, since there really are no other Natives on the big stage of the NBA. So, Natives are rallying around me now. I appreciate it!

Holter and Hart! Damen Bell-Holter with Kevin Hart!!!

Holter and Hart! Damen Bell-Holter with Kevin Hart!!!

Q)Wonderful!Basketball is a phenomenon throughout Native America…Rez Ball, Tournaments, Backyard Hoops…why do you think Natives enjoy such a magical connection to the game of basketball?

A) It's crazy. My hometown is well known for basketball.  Winning all-Native Tourneys for the last 12 years, like a little dynasty. Back home all the guys could play! And  I've played in Tourneys all over the world and the Native Tournaments have thousands of people just like me…great, great players. And a great, great experience!

Q) That's GREAT! Since you mentioned your hometown, I'd love to talk about how you stay connected to your Native culture?

A) I'm Haida. We're Coastal Native Americans. I am gone a lot, but as much as I am at home, I participate in potlatch, potlucks, dances.

Q) Dancing is so important to us as Natives, especially here at Powwows.com! I stomp dance and dance Southern Cloth Women's Traditional, and love it. What do your dances mean to you?

A) Wow! Everything. My Mom is the ultimate Native American Lady.  She is fluent in our language, does blankets, dances. The reason I stayed so true to who I am is because of my Mom telling me every day that I am Haida and what that means.  You know, I even have a tattoo that says, “You can take the boy out of the village, but you can't take the village out of the boy.”

Damen the Dad

Q) I love hearing that you practice your Native culture and traditions. And congratulations! You now have a beautiful baby to pass them down to in a good way! How has becoming a Dad changed your life?

A) Thank you. I work hard because I know I have somebody to look up to me, somebody I have to support.  I want him to be better than me. He's going to be better than me. So, I make sure he is always around me, seeing everything I do, because he's going to see everything I do and do everything I do. I'm going to bring him to my hometown to see where I'm from, where he's from…to see everything, really, good and bad. He'll see where I came from, not just have an idea of where I came from. I probably won't ever move back there, but I'll bring him back again and again, so he can be just like me.

Q) Thanks for being an excellent example to other Dads! Thanks for being a role model to your son and to our Native youth.  Your dreams have come true, so you know what they say, “When your dreams come true, get another dream!” What dreams are you working on now?

A) Thank you. I want to set up basketball camps so when my Pro career is over, I can still travel, do camps, and continue to do what I love.

Q) Sounds like a blessed life to me! How are your basketball camps going so far?

A) The camps are called BLESSED TO BLESS. That really ties into anything. If you are blessed with anything, an ability, skill, talent, you have to share it. You have to do it, regardless of what it is, then share it with others.  If you are blessed with something, you have to be a blessing.

Q) Agreed! That's really the secret of happiness, isn't it? We're blessed to be a blessing! How can folks become involved with your basketball camps and connect with you?

A) [email protected] is the best way.

Q) You sure have been a blessing to me today! Thanks so much for inspiring us all! I am always down for Natives supporting Natives, and I was already a fan of yours, but now I'm a SUPER fan.

A) Hahaha! I like that! Thank you so much!

Damen Bell Holter


Dr. Dawn Karima, PhD, is the host of A CONVERSATION WITH DAWN KARIMA, a Native American talk show that airs on TalktainmentRadio and its affiliates at http://talktainmentradio.com/shows/conversationwithdawnkarima.html



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