Levi's Pine Ridge Skatepark Build
Words & Photos: Jaime Owens
"A very great vision is needed, and the man who has it must follow it as the eagle seeks the deepest blue of the sky."
The Stronghold Society based in the Pine Ridge reservation of South Dakota is making the "skateboarding saved my life" motto more relevant than ever. A lot of us grew up loving how skating took us on the road less traveled in life, giving us new meaning of how we viewed our lives and the world around us. It filled a void that we didn't even know existed and gave us a purpose and attitude that we still carry to this day. We're all here today for many reasons, but mainly because all those years ago that little wooden toy brought us together to this point.
Over the past few years, it seems that more and more non-profit groups are popping up in different forms to help and expose skateboarding to children living in war-torn countries, with disabilities, income equality, and other disadvantages. They’re aim is to help push the theme that skateboarding literally has the power to save lives and is doing just that. Going beyond a hashtag on social media, more and more children are finding their ways out of desperation and sorrow through skateboarding and it's become the catalyst for major emotional breakthroughs in others alike. I had the chance to witness how skateboarding is changing the lives of the Pine Ridge reservation's children with an amazing opportunity provided by Levi's this past July. They were setting out to build two new skateparks in one of the poorest areas of the continental United States that has an epidemic of alcoholism, drug abuse and teen suicide. By using the same process along the lines of what Skateistan has successfully done with youth around the world, Stronghold Society founder, Walt Pourier along with support from Levi's and additional help from Wounded Knee Skateboards, Grindline Skateparks, and Vitalogy Foundation, are setting out on a mission to help the Oglala Sioux youth find more meaning and purpose in life by using skateboarding as a tool to reach them and educate them with a positive outlet. With a population of only 44,000 people and where over half of those people are under the age of 19, skateboarding can truly be a powerful avenue to help change their mindset and put them on a positive path.
Walt Pourier put it best when he said, "Skateboarding is really key here because the skateboarding culture in this country is really rich and we've tried to bring it here and adapt it to what we're now calling the Lakota skate culture. We want to establish a new movement with them and keep them inspired and give them an opportunity to live. I've heard a lot of skateboarders say that, 'skateboarding saved my life,' and that's what I want these kids to be able to experience. If you look up the word inspire in the dictionary, it means to be in spirit and that's who these kids are as Lakota youth. You live with spirit and that's your way of life. So you are meant to be an inspirational being. So we ask all the skaters of the world to come skate with our kids. We got a beautiful thing going here." The Lakota are a very proud, beautiful and spiritual people who have seen many hardships over the past 500 years, so if something like skateboarding can brighten the future for the their children, that's a great thing. And In my eyes, these movements continue to keep skateboarding stronger than ever, even when I thought it couldn't get any better. But thanks to organizations such as the Stronghold Society, it can… and it will.