BOZEMAN — Despite a 13-point win over Northern Colorado that extended Montana State’s active win streak to five in Big Sky Conference play, this past Saturday inside Brick Breeden Fieldhouse was much bigger than basketball.
For the first time in men's program history, the game was dedicated to an issue that continues to plague Montana’s tribal nations, the epidemic of missing and murdered indigenous people.
In front of one of its biggest crowds all season, Montana State profoundly donned the phrase “No More Stolen Relatives” in bold letters on their backs.
“It’s an issue on the women’s side and the men’s side on those reservations, and the more we can bring attention to it the better," Bobcats coach Danny Sprinkle stated.
As a Blackfeet flag song was played at midcourt before tipoff, the emotion inside Brick Breeden Fieldhouse was palpable and could even be seen courtside.
“I just know I’m playing for something," junior guard RaeQuan Battle said. "I know what I’m playing for every time I stand out here on this floor.”
As a Native American who grew up on a reservation, Saturday’s game hit close to home for Battle.
“Growing up on the reservation just brought a lot of wisdom to me," Battle explained. "I would say I was able to experience a lot of things that not everyone would experience like early on as a kid, so I grew up pretty fast.”
Being the first-ever Tulalip tribe member to earn a Division I basketball scholarship, Battle shared it comes with a lot of eyes and support.
Not only can he be a role model for kids growing up on reservations, but he can also be a voice for his people, which was a big reason for him coming to Montana State.
“I talked about it when we were recruiting him," Sprinkle recalled. "I talked about the reservations that we have in this state, and it means a lot. They love basketball, and I was like you can make such an impact on some of those little kids."
“I didn’t expect to do this as a kid," Battled added. "I dreamt about it, prayed about it, but now it’s here and it’s happening, so this is kind of surreal. It’s just awesome to be able to push a movement that hasn’t been talked about too much.”
The women’s program will be holding its annual No More Stolen Sisters awareness game this Saturday against Idaho State, but Battle wants to make sure the conversation doesn’t stop past the walls of Brick Breeden.
“Just don’t be afraid to speak up no matter what. If you keep your mouth closed nothing will happen,” he said.