PINE RIDGE RESERVATION –– On what used to be an open field separating the Oglala Community School from the village of Pine Ridge, new cultural and fitness opportunities have been created.
The skate-park builders from Seattle-based Grindline, who have built parks internationally, have dedicated their time and money to increasing those opportunities by turning a portion of that open field into a skate park that will be one of the largest in South Dakota.
This new skate park was dedicated as the Wounded Knee Four Directions Toby Eagle Bull Memorial Skate Park, in memory of a young skater who passed away in 2002 on the reservation. He filled his young life with skating and had dreamed of a skate park in his community.
The skate park joins the tribe’s Oglala Lakota Nation powwow grounds, a basketball court, a large, new playground, picnic area, and a baseball park. It was through the vision of a member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, Walt Pourier, who grew up skating just a few hundred yards away, on a single street, who wanted to see the skate boarding culture encouraged to grow within this community.
With his organization, the Stronghold Society, based in Colorado, Pourier was able to raise over $55,000.00 for the skate park. Through this effort, the three bowl park, with ranges from six to 13 feet across, several jumps and rails, the skate park offers near professional style skating opportunities for the skaters, new and experienced, in the Pine Ridge area.
Due to the outpouring of donations and funding, the park is one of the largest and most professional grade parks in South Dakota. The Tony Hawk Foundation, a nonprofit group that funds skate parks in low income communities around the country, donated around twenty thousand dollars, according to Peter Whitely, the program director of the foundation. Jeff Ament, bass guitarist for Pearl Jam, who was on hand to celebrate the dedication of the park, was a major contributor, along with people from the Vans Company, a major name in the skate boarding world.
According the Ament, it is important for people to have the opportunity to have a physical outlet, especially when there are many negative things going on in their lives. “In my world, when really artistic people come up on a rough time, like if they hurt themselves and can’t play sports, or their band breaks up, or something happens that they can’t do what they do, it’s easy to turn to drinking and doing drugs, but skating is something positive they can turn to.” said Ament.
Several Native American hip hop and rap artists performed during the dedication, including the cousin of Toby Eagle Bull, Kyle Mesteth, aka K-Dog, who performed several of his original tracks from an upcoming album, soon to be released.
Also performing was a Spoken Word Artist, Chance Two Crow, from Denver, Colorado. Two Crow, whose family is from the Pine Ridge Reservation, and had never before been to the reservation, performed several of his original poems, including a crowd favorite, entitled “The Only Good Indian.” Two Crow said, “I can’t find the justification for genocide in any passage in the Bible…” is one of the lines that drew a loud and boisterous response from the crowd.
Also performing was the local band, Scatters Their Own, named after the translation of the Lakota word, Oglala, which is the band of Lakota located on the Pine Ridge Reservation. The band, headed up by Scott Clifford, includes Julianna Brown Eyes, a model and photographer, as well as Clifford’s children.
At this event, Justes Wilson, also the sound engineer, took the honors on the drums for all the Scatters Their Own sets. Performing a few cover songs, it was the original work of the band that drew the biggest response from the audience. Spiderz Back, a local favorite band was also in attendance and performed, headed up by Tim “Timster” Mesteth, with Owen Black Elk and Justes Wilson again on drums.
One of the people who dedicated their time and efforts into this project was a skateboarder and park builder known as “Monk”. He performed several of his own songs, skating themed, which brought another round of boisterous responses from the crowd.
Jim Murphy of Grindline spoke about the project and how they were able to bring people together to get the vision brought to reality. Andy Kessler had wanted to use the name Wounded Knee for a new brand of skateboards, and decided that if he was going to use this honored name, he would have to learn more about the people surrounding it, and put the story of the Wounded Knee Massacre into each and every board that they produced. His visit to the reservation brought awareness to the need for a new park after witnessing the old wooden ramps that were in constant need of repair, year after year.
The long term plan is to build several skate parks throughout the entire reservation in almost every community. There is talk about making improvements to the adjacent baseball fields during the next visit out by many of the sponsors and donors of the subsequent skate parks on the reservation.
The Eagle Bull family of Pine Ridge, led by Evelyn “Sissy” Eagle Bull, grandmother of Toby Eagle Bull, gathered before the crowds to honor individuals responsible for the creation of the skate park. Walt Pourier was presented with an OST tribal flag, with a quote of his that encouraged many throughout the process “I Thrive, You Thrive, We Thrive”. Jim Murphy, Jeff Ament and a representative from Vans, were all gifted with star quilts, and the entire audience, including dozens of skaters, formed a line to shake hands with the family and thank the sponsors and volunteers. Local volunteers were gifted with hoodies embroidered with their names and the name of the skate park.
The Eagle Bull family spokesperson, the eldest sister of Toby, was Jeanne Eagle Bull Oxendine. She spoke about her brother’s passing, calling that incident the result of bad choices and the loss of not only her brother but also of Sarah Little Moon, who died in the same accident. Eagle Bull Oxendine also talked about how her family wanted to inspire people with his memory to make smarter choices about not drinking and driving and wearing seat belts.
A poignant moment was when she said, “I was in the military when he was very young, so I missed a lot of his life. I didn’t get to know this part of him (his passion for skate boarding). Seeing all of you skaters here, enjoying this new park is bringing him to me, and now I get to see what he was about.”
Jeff Ament suggested that it would be another creative outlet to invite the local graffiti artists to come and “tag” the park before the vandal graffiti gets out of hand on the park surfaces. Ament and several of the builders of the park were kept busy interacting and mentoring many of the area skaters as they tried out the new park. Ament, a lifelong skater summed up the hugely positive reaction to the park in three simple words, “Skating saves lives.”
Contact Karin Eagle at
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