GOLDEN VALLEY, Minn. — Jessie Stomski Seim has always been at home on the basketball court.
"To me basketball was a very powerful force," she said.
Jessie played high school hoops at Tartan High School, before earning a scholarship to Wisconsin where she had a standout career with the Badgers.
She was drafted in 2002 by Charlotte in the WNBA and later played basketball professionally overseas in Europe.
"It definitely put me on a track that I otherwise don't think that I'd be serving tribal communities and doing things like this, but for basketball. It changed my course in life," she said.
Stomski Seim is a member of the Muscogee Creek Nation of Oklahoma. The Twin Cities resident currently works as General Counsel for the Prairie Island Indian Community.
Right now, she's balancing her full-time job with leading awareness for Native Americans as a member of the Women's Final Four local organizing committee executive board.
"It's not really just about bouncing a basketball. It's about playing, and we love to play, but it's also about the other opportunities, and there's no reason that native kids should not have those opportunities," Stomski Seim said.
The numbers are staggering according to Jessie — with less than half a percentage point of all NCAA Division 1, 2, 3 athletes being Native Americans, with even fewer coaches.
She is presently leading a number of initiatives from a basketball clinic to traditional dance performances as part of the Indigenous Athletics Advancement Council to help bring about change starting at this year's Final Four in Minneapolis.
"We want to use it to focus on making sure that the Minnesota Indian Communities are represented well and get to share in this national tournament that is coming to Minnesota," she said.
Jessie and the IAAC worked with the NCAA and the Minnesota Local Organizing Committee to secure over 400 tickets for Native youth and their families to attend the Final Four.
Jessie is driven to succeed with this endeavor and is taking her best shot.
"On a personal level, I do this for my father and my grandmother, as well as all my relatives that didn't get this opportunity that I did. It's my responsibility to make good on this," she said.