Q&A: NFL Lineman Eli Ankou discusses #MyCauseMyCleats campaign and why he’s supporting PWNA

Two weeks ago, more than 800 NFL players took the field wearing custom cleats that reflected a cause important to them, as part of the NFL’s My Cause My Cleats campaign. From youth empowerment to cancer awareness, players chose to champion causes near and dear to them. For Eli Ankou (#54), a defensive lineman for the Jacksonville Jaguars, that cause is supporting Native American communities.

Less than 6 percent of participating charities in the campaign support social equity causes and we were humbled to learn that Eli chose to support Partnership With Native Americans (PWNA). We recently caught up with Eli and learned more about his experience with the campaign, his Native American heritage, and why he’s passionate about helping Native American communities. He also shared why he feels Native Americans are underrepresented across North America. Today, we’re sharing part one of our two-part Q&A series with Eli:

Eli Ankou Interview, Part I

PWNA: Is this your first time participating in the “My Cause My Cleats” campaign?

ELI:  No, it is not my first time. Last year, I did a commemoration to U.S. Navy Seals that resonated a lot. This year, I went into a more personal matter. Being Native American myself. I was trying to find a good organization that I believed served a good cause and would give me a sense of purpose.

PWNA: Do you have a military background yourself?

EA:  I do not but I have a few friends who are in the military and I know how much sacrifice it takes for them to be in that position, so I wanted to show my respect.

PWNA: So, you had a positive experience with the cleats campaign last year?

ELI:  Oh, yes, it was a good experience. There was a lot of positive feedback with that particular cause and the cleats. It was definitely good overall.

PWNA: You mentioned your family has ties to the Ojibway. Can you tell us a little more about this?

ELI: My family is from northern Ontario, Canada (near the French River). My grandmother is from the Dokis First Nation (traditionally known as Kikendawt), and she is Ojibway. My mother always raised us to cherish and embrace our culture. Growing up, there was a lot of implementation of the culture into my day-to-day life, and we would go to pow wows pretty much all the time — it was part of who we were.

 (Did you know? Dokis Bay is part of the greater Ojibwe Nation. The reservation community has about 250 residents and roughly 90 homes and is part of the Voyageur route for the week-long cycling tour from Ottawa to Quebec City. Dokis Bay is also home to the important hydro Okikendawt Project.)

PWNA:  Are you a traditional dancer?

ELI:  I am not a traditional dancer but did participate with my family members when the dancers took breaks from competitions at the powwows.

PWNA: You mentioned you were looking for a good Native American charity. What ultimately led you to choose Partnership With Native Americans?

ELI:  I wanted to find an organization that supports Native American kids being active in their communities but that also does more to directly help communities in a material way, more tangible in terms of actual resources. I noticed PWNA supports youth and takes a tangible focus, as well as offering courses and education for sustained agriculture and traditional nutrition.

**Tune in tomorrow for the second part of our Q&A with Eli Ankou, where we’ll discuss more of Eli’s concerns with underrepresented Native American communities and his message to all North Americans.

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