Walt Pourier was growing up in Pine Ridge, he would skateboard around
Baker's Hill next to the baseball diamond.
Pourier is now 46. And thanks to his efforts,
the next generation of skateboarders in Pine Ridge will have more
than a hill to ride.
On a gusty day last week, a handful of
skate-park builders from Seattle-based Grindline Skateparks were
hard at work in between the baseball field and a new children's
playground. They are turning a broken bottle-littered patch of dirt
into a skate park that will be one of the largest in South Dakota.
Pourier described the new park as a clover
with three bowls ranging from 6 to 13 feet across.
Pourier estimated his organization, the
Stronghold Society, raised about $55,000 for the park. Because workers
are donating their time and living in campers (one has a mattress
under the half-finished halfpipe), the finished skating area will
look like it cost closer to $200,000, he said. People around Pine
Ridge have been helping build the park and feeding workers, Pourier
community's so stoked on this that everybody's been doing their
part," he said. "It's a grand idea, and you feed that
grand idea - that's part of the strategy of this."
Park funding came from several skating
aficionados. Jeff Ament, bass guitarist for Pearl Jam, got involved,
as did Steve Van Doren, son of Paul Van Doren, founder of Vans brand
shoes. Ament and a representative from Vans will be at the park's
opening from noon to 5 p.m. Saturday, Pourier said.
The Pine Ridge skate park plan caught
the attention of the Tony Hawk Foundation, a non-profit group that
funds skate parks in low-income communities, enough that two board
members each made $5,000 personal donations on top of the foundation's
$10,000 grant. That is a first for the organization, said Peter
Whitley, programs director for the foundation.
The foundation typically looks at risk
factors like arrest rate, drug use, high school dropout and suicide
rate when deciding where to give grants, Whitley said. From October
2008 to August 2009, there were nearly 100 suicide attempts on the
reservation, Oglala Sioux Tribe President Theresa Two Bulls told
the Rapid City Journal in 2009.
just about any of those metrics, it was so far above and beyond
what we're usually looking at," Whitley said. "So there
was no question that it was a community that needed our help."
The park should give children and teens
something positive to think about, Pourier said.
"We really don't say, suicide,'
suicide,' suicide,' we say, live life,' live
life,' live life.' And that's how we want to inspire these
kids," he said. "It's kind of changing a mindset. It's
bigger than just building skate parks."
This is the second grant the Tony Hawk
foundation has given the Pine Ridge reservation. The first grant,
in 2003, went to build a skate park at the Boys and Girls Club in
Pine Ridge, near the Nebraska border. That park is in good condition
and children skate on it all the time, said Chick Big Crow, executive
director of the Boys and Girls Club.
The skate park under construction right
now replaces some old wooden structures that would fall apart every
year, Big Crow said.
Twenty-four-year-old Jordan Big Crow,
Chick's grandson, said the new skate park will be "amazing."
He teaches skateboarding at the Boys and Girls Club.
the safest place to skate. We have rules to go by, and it's just
out of gang reach - it's not even graffitied," he said. "All
the skaters here, not one of them is in a gang. And you can't say
that about any other activity that's around here."
The park will officially be the "Wounded
Knee Four Directions Toby Eagle Bull Memorial Skate Park,"
named in honor of Toby Eagle Bull, a 20-year-old Pine Ridge resident
who died in a car collision in 2002. Eagle Bull was
Jordan Big Crow's skateboarding role model
and started the skateboarding interest in Pine Ridge, Big Crow said.
This is the first of a series of skate
parks Pourier has planned for the reservation. He wants to build
at Wounded Knee, Kyle and Thunder Valley. After that, his organization
plans to expand to other reservations, using skate parks to encourage
children and teenagers to think creatively with skateboards.
"People tend to paint them as dark,
but that's a stereotype. These kids are the opposite of that,"
he said. "These movements are the call to humanity of today.
We want to create movements like this. We want them to be kind of
rebellious of these stereotypes. We want them to show people who