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New York City is hardly synonymous with Australian Indigenous culture, but Patty Mills finds a way to incorporate daily cultural practices from his Brooklyn apartment. Key points:Mills says the Indigenous Voice to Parliament is important “because it’s affected us”The NBA champion wants to use his profile “to bridge the gap” between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians He wants to use projects like Indigenous Basketball Australia to educate young Australians in the lead-up to the referendum”There’s definitely things throughout the day and throughout the season that I feel really attached to, whether it’s cooking certain foods, whether it’s singing different songs on the guitar, or even just reading certain books,” Mills said.”The paintings and decorations that we have around the house are all tied back to our culture.”Mills’s passion for his Indigenous heritage is palpable, even through a video call.The NBA champion is at the Brooklyn Nets training facility in New York and first notices the sound of the native birds in the background from my location on Yuggera and Turrbal country, Brisbane.”It’s always going to come back to being proud of what we have in Australia and what we do have is this beautiful, unique culture,” Mills said.Mills played a key role in the Boomers’ historic Tokyo Olympics campaign in which they claimed bronze.(Getty Images: Kevin C Cox)Patrick Sammy James Mills is synonymous with the success of Australian men’s basketball.Throughout his decorated career, Mills has used his platform to promote who he is and where he comes from.”I just think I’ve tried to make a difference where I can and use myself as a person to be able to bridge the gap almost,” he said.”As this time comes up, I think it’s just about coming together, as easy as it seems to say.”Importance of Voice referendumThe time Mills speaks of is this year’s referendum on an Indigenous Voice to Parliament.A Voice to Parliament would be a permanent body representing First Nations people that would advise government on policies and laws which impact their lives.Mills — who was the first Indigenous Australian Olympic flag bearer, at Tokyo —has not been consulted by the federal government about the potential changes to the constitution.While he did not weigh into the political debate, Mills is not distancing himself from it either.”I just try to use my projects to be able to educate people that way,” he said.Mills is an optimistic voice as Australians prepare for the referendum, acknowledging the need for change.”[We have an] Australian culture that everyone should be proud of, no matter if you’re Indigenous or not Indigenous,” he said.”Because it’s affected us.”Mills uses his platform as an NBA player to educate people about Indigenous culture.(Getty Images: Jim McIsaac)Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said the vote should be “above politics”.Mills has urged all Australians to consider the important moment in the nation’s history.”When you say importance, it’s because it’s [history of Indigenous Australians] affected us,” he said.”You know my mum and my aunties and uncles had to deal with that.”His mother Yvonne Mills — from the Koonibba Mission in South Australia — was part of the Stolen Generations.Her son proudly speaks of the “big part” his mother played “back in the day”, working for government in the nation’s capital and bringing recognition of Indigenous Australians.An Indigenous voice in the NBAMills followed in his mother’s footsteps, infiltrating his culture and identity into the NBA.Ahead of claiming the NBA championship in 2014, Mills’s teammates at the San Antonio Spurs were educated on the 1992 Mabo decision, given that Eddie Mabo is his great-uncle.Loading Instagram contentIn 2014, his then-coach at the Spurs, Gregg Popovich, used a pre-game speech during the NBA Finals to inform the team of the significance in awarding land rights to Indigenous Australians.Gregg Popovich (left) showed respect for Mills’s Indigenous heritage during their time together at the Spurs.(Getty images: Thearon W Henderson)Alongside his “gold vibes only” mantra instilled in the Boomers camp during Tokyo, a video emerged of the team captain practising an Indigenous war dance ahead of the side’s most successful campaign in Olympic history.”I think the most important thing for our group is the culture that we’ve been able to really cement now,” Mills said.”So to be able to carry this on to the World Cup [in 2023] to Paris, and then, in turn, the Olympics down the road,” he added.Creating opportunitiesMills was introduced to basketball as a four-year-old through the Shadows – an indigenous basketball club – that was founded by his father Benny and mother Yvonne.The NBA’s hiatus during the COVID-19 pandemic gave the 34-year-old the time and resources to revive the family initiative, now known as Indigenous Basketball Australia (IBA).”What we’ve created is opportunities and pathways for communities around Australia, not just players … to use basketball as a platform to get people to feel this sense of something that they own and that they can be a part of,” Mills said.Loading Instagram contentMills describes the program as “an absolute powerhouse”, with 2,000 participants in eight regions across the country.His goal is to see a young Indigenous player progress through the program to play for the Opals or Boomers and “hopefully do that at a home Olympics” in 2032.During the NBA’s COVID bubble, Mills used his platform and income to donate more than $1 million to promote Black Lives Matter initiatives.He has been open about the racism and discrimination of black and Indigenous athletes throughout his career and hopes to help IBA athletes “take walls down” and navigate through them.”How can you manage these unfortunate circumstances? How can you politely take these walls down?” Mills said.”The more that you’re able to educate people on who you are and where you’re from, [it] helps a lot.”I think that’s the high road that my mum has taught me.”

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