CANNON BALL, N.D. — Boston Celtics star Kyrie Irving participated in a traditional Lakota naming ceremony Thursday morning, and was given the name “Little Mountain” as he honored the memory of his late mother, Elizabeth, and further embraced his Native American heritage.
“It’s really special for me to be here because I lost my mom at a very young age,” said Irving, 26, whose mother died when he was 4 and whom he has honored with multiple tattoos, as well as naming his daughter after her. “I had no idea, no idea that I would end up belonging to almost four different families. My dad’s side, my grandparents’ side, my mom’s side and ultimately my own family that I’m starting now.”
Irving and his older sister, Asia — who was given the name “Buffalo Woman” — were honored guests in front of roughly 1,000 people Thursday. Their mother, Elizabeth Ann Larson, was adopted as a baby, and her birth mother, Meredith Marie Mountain, was a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.
More than 100 relatives — all wearing Celtic green shirts with white lettering that read “Welcome Home Kyrie Irving” with his No. 11 on the back — were on hand for Thursday’s ceremony, which came to be after several months of dialogue between the tribe and Irving’s agency.
“It truly is a good day for Standing Rock,” said Mike Faith, tribal council chairman. “We are welcoming home two of our own. Asia and Kyrie, welcome back.”
Irving came onto the tribe’s radar in November 2016, when Irving tweeted his support of those protesting the Dakota Pipeline. A short time later, in an interview with ESPN’s Rachel Nichols, he stated publicly for the first time that he had native blood.
“I’m actually Sioux Indian,” Irving said. “My mom was adopted … there’s a home connection that was going on there.”
Last year, Irving donated $100,000 to the tribe’s youth. He also has tattooed the Standing Rock logo onto the back of his neck. Earlier this year, Irving released a Nike N7 shoe with the Standing Rock logo incorporated into it.
The naming ceremony itself was conducted by Vernon Iron Cloud, who has done all of the White Mountain family’s naming ceremonies dating back several decades, a spokesperson for the tribe said.
It began with both Irving and his sister taking off their shoes and standing on a blanket placed atop a buffalo hide on the floor in the center of the Prairie Knights Pavilion, a concert space adjacent to the Prairie Knights Casino, with Irving wearing a white button down ribbon shirt with yellow, blue and red stripes.
Iron Cloud — dressed in jeans, cowboy boots, a flannel shirt and a blue vest with a horse and tepee on each side of the front, and a skull on the back — then lit a rope made of braided sweetgrass and allowed the smoke to waft around both of them. Then, as a traditional Lakota drum group, the Grand River Singers, played traditional songs, all 1,000 people in attendance slowly rotated to all four points of the compass. Iron Cloud stood a few feet in front of Kyrie and Asia Irving, holding an eagle feather in his right hand and an eagle plume in his left.
After they had pointed in each direction, Iron Cloud rubbed an eagle fan over each of them. The eagle feather was then tied into Kyrie’s hair just above his right ear, using a medicine wheel made of porcupine quills. The eagle plume was then tied into Asia’s hair above her left ear.
They were then given a beaded medallion, and each had a blanket draped over their shoulders.
At that point, the emcee of Thursday’s event, Frank Jamerson, read their names allowed for those in attendance to hear. After they were applauded, a receiving line of family members hugged and greeted both Kyrie and Asia.
In an amusing twist, during speeches by tribal elders to begin the festivities, Jamerson announced that there was, in fact, another Kyrie Irving in attendance — a 9-year-old student who did, in fact, share the star’s name, and was decked out from head-to-toe in the Celtic star’s Nike gear. After jokingly asking for “The real Kyrie Irving to please stand up,” the student was invited up onto the stage to meet his namesake.
When he arrived, the elder Kyrie Irving jumped out of his seat, yelled, “Kyrie!” and gave him a bearhug, much to the crowd’s delight.
“Just the way [Irving] played,” said the boy’s father, Tracy, when asked why he named his son after the basketball star. He did so when Irving was still a high school star in New Jersey — long before anyone knew of the connection to the tribe. “He plays different. He plays a lot like a Native American.”
Irving stopped multiple times to sign autographs, and at several points allowed children to toss items onstage for him sign. Along with his sister, he was also accompanied by his grandparents, George and Norma Larson — who adopted his mother nine days after she was born.
After the naming ceremony was completed, a traditional lunch featuring fry bread, wojapi — a berry paste — and bapa soup was served. This was followed by traditional dances, giving the Irvings a glimpse into the traditions and ways of the tribe.
They were then given several gifts, including blankets, necklaces and a colorfully painted bull’s skull.
The day ended with Irving’s speech, and then him personally greeting attendees.
“I thank you guys from the bottom of my heart,” Irving said, “and I cannot wait to come back.
“Seriously. This is family for me now. I don’t know anything else.”