When the Quinault team won the basketball district championships a few years ago, Jimmy-Smith Kramer, No. 5, jumped up to touch the net.
Quinault Indian Nation president Fawn Sharp remembers seeing two young Quinaults, 7 or 8 years-old, watching Smith-Kramer nearby. "To those little guys, he was their basketball hero," Sharp says.
In the midst of his victory celebration, Smith-Kramer made a point of taking pictures with the kids. "Kids that age can be all about themselves and all about the victory, but he went out of his way to take some photos with the two little ones," Sharp says. "That, to me, stood out as an example of his place in our community."
Richie Underwood, an uncle of Smith-Kramer's who helped raise him after his mother died when he was a toddler, remembers his nephew as a self-motivator, someone who never strayed from the straight and narrow, a father who spoiled his kids by buying them Nike gear, and a kid who loved basketball so much he would play well after dark. He had an infectious laugh and smile, and quick wit, Underwood says. And for all of these qualities, little ones looked up to him, too, wearing Smith-Kramer's No. 5 jersey while they dribbled in the street.
"Some of these kids [say], 'I'm going to be Michael Jordan,'" Underwood remembers. "Instead it was, 'I'm going to be Jimmy Smith-Kramer.'"
The Quinault Indian Nation, headquartered in a tiny community of 840 on the edge of the Olympic Peninsula in Western Washington, has been reeling in the wake of what witnesses have described as a deliberate hit-and-run over the weekend that killed Smith-Kramer and injured his friend, Harvey Anderson, 19. Smith-Kramer, a father of two-year-old twins, had been celebrating his birthday at a Grays Harbor County campgrounds when the driver, who had been doing donuts in the parking lot, backed over him. Anderson told KING 5 that the driver hit reverse after the friends asked the driver to stop doing donuts, and Smith-Kramer tried to save Anderson by pushing him out of the way.
The Quinault Indian Nation also put out a statement claiming that witnesses overheard the driver yelling war whoops and racial slurs before killing Smith-Kramer. The Grays Harbor Sheriff's Office, which arrested 31-year-old suspect James D. Walker on a second-degree homicide charge Tuesday night, disputes that claim. They say there's no evidence of racial motivation to the attack.
But the tribe is standing behind its original statement. To Sharp, it's important that the witnesses who claim they heard racial slurs are heard, too.
"I think young people who have gone through something so tragic, so horrific, with this much trauma, shouldn't have to go through another incident where their observations may not be deemed to mean anything," Sharp says.
It's especially important that this perspective be heard, Sharp says, because Smith-Kramer was in junior high when the tribe went to court with a civil rights lawsuit claiming that its athletics teams faced discrimination. The Coastal 1-B League decided to exclude Taholah, citing allegations including recruiting violations, foul language, and past rules infractions. But the tribe's lawsuit claimed that Taholah athletes had long been subjected to discriminatory behavior, including past actions from the League that forced Taholah to travel four hours in any direction just to play another team. At away games, the lawsuit also claimed, Native youth were called " dirty Indians," "wagon burners," and "sand niggers." The League eventually settled with the Quinault Indian Nation out of court.
"This is that same group of kids were in junior high when we went through the whole league dispute," Sharp says. "They've basically been schooled in race relations. All the more to make sure they have faith and trust in the legal system, that they have faith and trust in humanity."
Underwood, Smith-Kramer's uncle, says that that he's been on the receiving end of racist comments, too, but pays them no mind. Now Underwood is a tribal fishing guide, and tries to educate non-Natives about tribal culture.
"What I do for a living requires my personal ability to communicate with every race," Underwood says. "Consciously, I'm trying to make a difference."
Underwood also relayed the fact that Jimmy held a special place in the community as a provider, a designated hunter. Responsibility for hunting and distributing the meat among elders has been a task handed down to generations within the Smith-Kramer family, and Underwood says that Jimmy Smith-Kramer took that responsibility very seriously.
"In some cases he'd even pay to get it out, and he'd distribute it to elders in the community," Underwood says. "He provided for a lot of families here in the village."
Underwood stayed at the hospital with his nephew all weekend. On Tuesday, he passed away, and the family decided to donate his organs.
The community is still hurting, Underwood says. Now, older folks are focused on helping the younger generation that looked up to his nephew to heal.
"Our community's pretty devastated," he says. "We're doing the best we can."