JTo the outside world, the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, home to the Lakota people, is known as one of the poorest regions in the United States. Historically, in 1890 it was the site of the Wounded Knee Massacre. In recent years, its population – as high as 40,000, by some estimates – has faced a variety of problems, including a high suicide rate among young peopledrug and alcohol problems, vandalism, gang activity and high unemployment.
For the past five years, a non-profit organization called the Stronghold Society has worked to make reservations like Pine Ridge a better place for future generations through skateboarding. “All we do is inspire [the youth] through skateboarding, music and the arts,” says general manager Walt Pourier. “It’s a creative outlet to help them have their voices heard and be heard in those creative areas.”
Pourier, a Lakota, is confident in the message: “You raise a whole generation and they start saying, ‘You know what, I don’t need alcohol in my life, I don’t need drugs in my life. my life, I don’t need I don’t need this gang mentality in my life, I want to educate myself and learn, [showing] all that we are as an indigenous way of life.
Why We’re Watching Again: Aaron Huey at Pine Ridge
Pine Ridge currently has two of four planned skate parks. “When you start showing the story of poverty continually, what ends up happening is that the young people, this generation, start to believe in it,” Pourier says, “because that’s how the world sees them, and they become so.”
With the help of brands like Vans, the Tony Hawk Foundation and the Pearl Jam group, Pine Ridge has recently received much-needed support, mostly by word of mouth.
Last fall, the Stronghold Society and Levi’s Skateboarding released a documentary titled Skateboarding at Pine Ridge. The documentary captures the completion of the most recently built skate park in Pine Ridge, with professional skaters teaching some of the reservation’s children to skateboard. Even though photographer Atiba Jefferson only spent two days on set during the film’s production, the impression the booking had on him was lasting. Jefferson later said he was shocked “to see the poverty in America that I normally see in third world countries”. He added: “Skating is their saving grace in a very depressing environment.”
Pourier estimates that skate parks in Pine Ridge average about 100 kids a day, including about 300 on weekends. “We’ve created a spark of life in this reserve that they haven’t seen in a long time,” he says.
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