GPS & McCallie Gather for MLK Day Speaker

Students hear from Onondaga Nation member Neal Powless
This morning, members of the GPS community boarded buses and made their way to McCallie to hear from Neal Powless, a member of the Native American Onondaga Nation. Based in Syracuse, New York, Neal has become a leading voice in Indigenous rights and inclusion, often using his background in lacrosse to connect with others. 

To begin his speech, Neal spoke about his native name, Hawenawdies, which translates to “his voice is heard among the people and he brings a message.” He explained he struggled to understand what his name meant and what it would mean for his life. Through various moments and experiences across the years in high school, college, and beyond, he’s gained insight into his calling as a speaker, and he reminded the students to focus on the journey and not the destination. 

Neal’s parents played an important role in helping him discover his voice, and he instilled their guiding principles to those in attendance: show up, do your best, be coachable, and have fun. These tenets have served him well in his time as a lacrosse player, coach, and Indigenous rights advocate. 

To illustrate how these goals shaped him, Neal shared a story about a time when he had first started coaching and was approached by movie producers who were making a film about the sport. They offered him a role behind the scenes that he accepted. “When I read the script, though, it had serious issues,” he said. “There were Native American stereotypes, and there were important elements left out.” He worked 14-hour days for two months, and the effort paid off. “I was coachable, I had fun, and it was hard work,” he said. “In the end, the producers and directors started to understand a new way of looking at the world.”

He also shared an anecdote about one of his spiritual leaders. “One day someone asked him, ‘If you could wish away the white man all those years ago and make this all indigenous land again, would you?’ and without hesitation,’ my leader said, ‘No, the Creator brought us together for a reason. It’s up to each of us to figure out why,’” Neal said.

He concluded his talk by emphasizing that conflict is not a sign of failure but rather an opportunity to learn, and he encouraged the students to focus on those same four tenets his parents taught him: show up, do your best, be coachable, and have fun.

Lee Burns, McCallie Head of School, concluded the event by thanking Neal for his message and addressing the students: “I encourage each of you on Monday to reflect on the life and legacy of Dr. King and what it means for you to build on his legacy.”


Neal Powless has taught courses and presented across the country for nearly 20 years about Indigenous culture and value systems. His aim is to help bridge Native American ideals and culture with organizations and individuals. Since 2014, Neal has been the Head Coach for the Netherlands National Lacrosse Team and the Netherlands National Indoor Lacrosse Team. He was a 3-time All-American lacrosse player, which led to his 7-year professional lacrosse career. He has won a total of 5 Professional and National Championships and was inducted into the Nazareth College Sports Hall of Fame in 2009 and the US Lacrosse, CNY Chapter Hall of Fame in 2017. Mr. Powless formerly served Syracuse University’s Office of Multicultural Affairs and Career Services. He holds a masters in counseling from Syracuse University and a BS in psychology from Nazareth College. His current PhD research is about Indigenous imagery in contemporary major motion pictures. Mr. Powless resides in Upstate New York with his wife and their four children.