Alcott takes first place at Indian Challenge Bowl, high school team takes second

Nov. 3—The Indian Education academic team from Alcott Middle School took home the top prize at the Indian Challenge Bowl held at Seminole State College.

Sponsored by the Oklahoma Council for Indian Education, the Indian Challenge Bowl is an annual competition that pits high school and middle school teams against each other in a competition to see which team knows the most on topics relating to the 39 tribal nations in Oklahoma.

The competition took place on Friday, Oct. 27, and the combined Norman High and Norman North High school team took second place in the high school division.

Lucyann Harjo, Indian education coordinator for Norman Public Schools, said the students are asked questions on a range of topics.

"They need to know Oklahoma tribal history, tribal governments, tribal languages and important people among our communities from all the 39 tribes," Harjo said. "We encourage our kids to learn about their people. This is a good opportunity for them to learn as much as they can and then compete against their peers across the state."

Other topics include geography; famous quotes and sayings; music, art and literature; sovereignty, treaties and major court decisions; tribal princesses and holders of the 29 tribal nations; celebration names and places; Oklahoma stories and legends; and the State of Sequoyah.

Harjo said 10 middle schools and 15 high schools vied for top prizes in their categories, including all four middle schools in Norman Public Schools.

Alyssa Factor, Indian education oversight advisor for Alcott and Longfellow, said she created a 35-page guide that her students studied before entering the competition.

"The first chunk of it is about all 39 tribes, so I listed their tribal leaders with their title, their headquarters, their language family, their original homelands and notable people and their tribe," Factor said.

She said her Alcott team worked hard to win the competition.

"I am super proud of them," she said.

This year, Factor said the judges asked questions about tribal seals.

"I had my students look at all the tribal seals and try to remember features from each one," Factor said. "We studied from a book. I also made flashcards and online flashcards. I made them study a lot."

Zachary Grimes, high school services adviser, said he is proud of his team, though admitted the Norman North kids were particularly disappointed.

"It's been impressive, but we're a little dissatisfied that our Norman North students have finished second four years in a row now, and they're still chasing that number one," Grimes said. "But it was really fun, and they are already getting ready for next year."

He said this year the judges asked about notable Norman natives, including Lindy Waters III, Oklahoma City Thunder basketball player.

"Some of the questions were about famous tribal members, so they asked: 'Who is the famous Kiowa and Cherokee Thunder player?'" he said. "They ask contemporary questions. It is not all just about history."

Grimes said recruiting for the Challenge Bowl team poses complications, as many high school students are involved in other activities, such as band, choir and DECA.

"Their schedules are completely full, so it's fun to see them make time for this," Grimes said. "This isn't part of their school duties, but they take time out of their own schedules to study and do this each year."

He said many high schoolers use the Challenge Bowl to strengthen their college and scholarship applications.

"The Oklahoma Indian Student Honor Society is a prestigious award, and you have to have a 3.9 grade point average, in addition to cultural services, such as volunteering and participation," he said.

Grimes said because Norman does not directly fall inside a tribal reservation, many Native American students find it hard to connect with their own tribal nations, which makes it more difficult to participate in activities that support Native communities, so the Challenge Bowl is a way for them to fill these application requirements.

Harjo said Native American students who are connected to tribal communities are more likely to succeed in life after graduation than those who are not.

"We really strongly believe that if we can build that part of them up and educate them about who they are as a tribal citizen, they will be much more successful in our district," she said.

Brian King covers education and politics for The Transcript. Reach him at