PINE RIDGE, S.D. ‒ “We can create movements,” said Walt Pourier, a Lakota Sioux. “Creative movements focused on humanity, the environment, and peace.”
On the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, up to 70 percent of students do not graduate from high school and youth suicide rates are 150 times higher than that of the average American child. The Stronghold Society has had enough.
“We are tired of it,” “It’s time to focus on what the Lakota lifestyle has to offer. If the youth [of Pine Ridge] could see what they hold in their DNA, if they could see that this world needs them, they would be unstoppable.”
Since the founding of the Stronghold Society in early 2011, Pourier has built connections with individuals and activists, specifically in Native Country and within the skateboarding culture.
He never imagined the deep connections youth on the reservation would make with skateboarders in distant places like Kabul, Lebanon, Sri Lanka, Israel, Turkey, India, and Russia through project Skateistan.
A world apart, with so many differences, they also discovered much in common – and a passion for skateboarding.
Since teaming up with skateboard legends like Jim Murphy (Murph), gaining support from organizations such as Vans and the Tony Hawk Foundation, and making friends with Jeff Ament of Pearl Jam, the Stronghold Society has grown tremendously and succeeded in creating its first world class skate park on Pine Ridge reservation this year.
Skateistan began as a Kabul-based Afghan organization, and has grown into an International non-profit charity providing skateboarding and educational programming in Afghanistan, Cambodia and Pakistan. Skateistan is non-political, independent, and inclusive of all ethnicities, religions and social backgrounds.
Elizabeth Gordon is an exhibit developer who focuses on Native America for the Smithsonian Institution. She has been involved with Pourier and the Stronghold Society, working closely on events such as “Ramp It Up,” a traveling exhibition featuring skate culture in Native America.
“One wonderful thing about working with Walt and Murph is that they are extremely supportive of my dreams and schemes no matter how unrealistic they are,” said Gordon.
It was Gordon who introduced Pourier and the Stronghold Society to Skateistan, non-profit organization based in Kabul, Afghanistan.
“Since I started researching skate culture in Indian Country, I’ve seen remarkably similar stories in other countries [including] Afghanistan,” said Gordon, “ Although I told the story about Native skate culture through my [traveling] exhibition, I wanted to expand the narrative to give it a more global perspective. “Skating is an extremely positive, creative, ingenious, remarkably simple force of profound social change generated by youth,” she said.
Gordon was successful in connecting the two non-profits, which then immediately began discussing a type of exchange they would participate in from across the ocean. Each group of young skaters decided to share their culture and creativity with each other by designing skateboarding equipment. The program is called “Connecting the Dots.”
Shortly before their first skate exchange was to take place, Skateistan lost four members to a suicide bombing in Kabul. Of the over 1,000 suicide bombings that have taken place worldwide, nearly all of them have occurred within the bounds of Lebanon, Sri Lanka, Israel, Turkey, India, Russia, Iraq, Pakistan, and Afghanistan.
The bomb was detonated on the morning of September 8, at the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) headquarters, where the many working children of Kabul sell scarves and chewing gum to help support their families.
The Skateistan community came together to remember the young skaters lost and those injured, posting storiesof the bravery and heart each child possessed on their website.
Among those who died was 14-year-old Khorshid, she was an instructor and leader among her peers.
“If you are scared, you end up doing nothing, and without doing, you cannot achieve anything. But if you do things all that can happen is that you succeed or fail.”
In the last year, the Skateistan group has been touched twice by suicide bombings. But Oliver Percovich, founder of Skateistan, remains steadfast, strong, and hopeful for his skaters.
“It is so empowering for these kids to know that they are helping other kids across the world,” said Percovich
Young members of Skateistan and The Stonghold Society have been working hard to come up with creative designs and slogans to share with each other.
When news from Skateistan reached The Stronghold Society, Pourier and Murph, along with Wounded Knee skater Andy Burciaga, and Alien Workshop’s Jason Dill all headed to Pine Ridge to tell the children what had happened, to be strong, and to continue their project.
At the skate park Jason gave away Alien Workshop decks, Murph gave away Wounded Knee decks, and the youth designed 20 large sheets of grip tape to send to the skaters in Kabul, said Pourier.
“The whole experience was powerful,” said Pourier. “The experience was emotional for Jason. A lot of people go [to Pine Ridge] to help and it’s a wakeup call because the kids end up helping them … that’s pretty amazing to see.”
A film documentary on the Skateistan, and the change is brought to the lives of children in Kabul is being released today on iTunes, Xbox Live, Google and Amazon.