MISSOULA  — Graphic designer Benji Headswift felt it was an opportunity of a lifetime when he was selected last year to create a Native American logo for the University of Montana’s participation in Nike’s N7 program, a national initiative that encourages Indigenous youth to join in sports and recreational activities.

A UM alumnus and member of the Northern Cheyenne tribe (Só'taétane), Headswift has long incorporated Indigenous traditions into his artistic creations. But this commission places his work in the national spotlight that comes with the Nike N7 program, which has awarded more than $8 million to 270 communities and organizations through the sales of Native-inspired athletic clothing.

Headswift’s logo will appear on the Montana men’s and Lady Griz basketball teams’ shooting shirts at Nike N7 games in the Adams Center this season. Under the shooting shirts, the players will wear custom turquoise uniforms created by Nike. The Lady Griz game will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 28 and the men’s game will be at 7 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 4.

Officially licensed Nike Griz gear featuring Headswift’s logo already is available online and in the UM Bookstore, The M Store, Scheels, Fanatics and Dick’s Sporting Goods. As part of a request from Headswift, a portion of the proceeds will support UM’s Kyiyo Pow Wow, one of the nation’s oldest student-run powwows.

When designing the logo, Headswift wanted to create something authentic that would make his tribe and other Native American communities proud. He thought long and hard about his heritage and experiences before designing a logo with four feathers on the traditional cursive Griz logo. The feathers represent each level of education one can earn in college — an associate degree, bachelor’s degree, master’s degree and doctoral degree. Tribes have a tradition of awarding achievements often through feathers, which gives the logo even more meaning, Headswift said.

“I hope this design gives our Indigenous people pride,” Headswift said. “I hope it inspires people to take a look at getting their education. I look at it as a new way of earning our feathers.”

UM will host N7 basketball games over the next three years. The upcoming games will be an opportunity for the University to celebrate the contributions of its Native American students, employees and student athletes. The games will feature a display of Montana’s tribal flags and a halftime Indigenous dance performance. In addition, five former Lady Griz basketball players from Native communities will attend and be recognized during time-outs.

Headswift said it will be surreal to see UM’s basketball teams wearing his logo on the Nike apparel.

“It’s going to be impactful, especially when the Native community finds out it’s somebody from the community and somebody from the state as well,” Headswift said.

Headswift also is somebody from UM. He graduated last year with a bachelor’s degree in Native American studies, housed in UM’s Department of Native American Studies in the College of Humanities and Sciences. At 41, Headswift was a non-traditional student who moved with his wife and four children from Lame Deer on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation to Missoula to study at UM.

“We took the chance and made the move,” Headswift said. “It was scary for us as a family. We never lived off reservation before with our kids. My wife and I had lived off the reservation in our younger years. I was in the Army and my wife was a UM student.”

Headswift, a former Northern Cheyenne tribal council member, now works for Missoula County Public Schools as a Native American specialist, while continuing to create artwork and designs for athletic clothing.

Michelle Guzman, director of UM’s American Indian Student Services, hired Headswift to work in her office as a student. She remembers him bringing in his artwork and encouraging other Native students.

“When I was asked for any suggestions for a student who may be interested in doing a design for the basketball team, I immediately thought of Benji and all the work he showed me,” Guzman said. “Benji is a genuine person who cares about his Native American culture and people and this can be seen in his designs.”

Headswift is thankful for his time at UM where he was able to see his potential as an artist. He hopes the opportunity to design the Native feather logo will inspire younger Native artists and other Indigenous youth who are considering attending college.

“I would like to encourage people to give college a try,” Headswift said. “Take it from a former Rez boy: If I can do it, I know you can as well.”

Last month, two days before Christmas, Headswift heard from a friend that the Griz gear with his logo was on the shelves in local retail stores. He immediately went to Scheels in Missoula and was in awe when he saw his artwork printed on the maroon, white and turquoise clothing.

“It was all chills and emotions,” he said, recalling the moment. “All in all, I hope this design gives strength, pride, and courage to those who wear it.”

- by Kyle Spurr, UM News Service -

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