Story and photos by Karin Eagle, Native Sun News staff writer
PINE RIDGE — The top two goals of Stronghold Society are to create and sustain an art resource studio and skateboarding park on the Pine Ridge Reservation and to provide Native American youth with an outlet for creativity through resources developed by the organization.
Giving young warriors the opportunity to create new avenues of proving their fearlessness and their athletic prowess is merely one of the outcomes of the Colorado-based Stronghold Society, which is headed by Oglala Lakota Walt Pourier.
Giving the young men and women on the Pine Ridge Reservation the ability to find a creative outlet through skateboarding is the No. 1 priority for all involved with Stronghold and includes the 10th Annual Toby Eagle Bull Memorial Sk8Jam competition held Aug. 3.
According to Pourier’s comments on the Stronghold website, “The stronghold is a place where a community regroups, a place to stand your ground and together face all of life’s challenges … to ride out the coming storm.”
“The Lakotas have a word, ‘skan,’ interpreted as something that moves. Spiritual vitality, the force of life itself, is something each of us and all of life possess within,” Pourier said.
Following the movement that began with last fall’s dedication of the Wounded Knee Four Directions Toby Eagle Bull Skate Park in Pine Ridge, there has been an increase in the awareness of the physical and artistic outlet that the skateboarding culture offers to Native youth.
The park is named for a young man, Toby Eagle Bull, who was dedicated to family, community and culture and thrived in his own life through skateboarding, when no such park existed. He always strived to find ways to encourage his fellow Lakota youth, and following his tragic passing, his family took up that mission which culminated in the skate park – the largest in South Dakota.
The theme for this year’s competition was “Live to Enjoy the Memory.”
Many of the competitors were from right within the Pine Ridge community. The largest group of skaters was under the age of 13, with many of them under the age of 7.
All of the youngest skaters were required to wear helmets, which were provided free of charge. Calls from the older skaters and spectators alike were heard, reminding the young ones to put their helmets back on.
Only one incident brought home the need for helmets when one of the youngest skaters had a minor accident during his competition.
He was checked over, deemed okay and finished his set near the end of the competition.
Elijah Battese, 13, was one of the older competitors. Pourier had nothing but praise for Battese, saying how he had come from a first-time skater just a mere five months ago to a real competitor.
This observation seemed to emphasize the goals that Pourier and his company have for the reservation. There are additional skate parks being planned for in the near future for other communities on the Pine Ridge Reservation, such as in the Manderson area, where there is another concentration of would-be skaters.
Toby Eagle Bull’s sister, Jeanne, who was unable to attend from California, wrote a letter which was read by their aunt, Suzy Eagle Bull Mesteth.
The letter reads, in part:
“This park is proof of how a family, a community and good hearts can come together to bring such positive energy and fulfill dreams, especially the dream of a young man, Toby. Wounded Knee 4 Directions, the Stronghold Society and our community made this possible.”
“As a community, we have a lot of history together when it comes to skateboarding. Over the past 10 years, we have grown to what we have now, a skate park. As most of you know, Toby was a passionate skater like all of you, and he too dreamed of having a skate park in Pine Ridge. Unfortunately, he passed away in a car accident with another friend, Sara Little Moon, 10 years ago on August 4, 2002. It was after his passing, as a family and community, we decided to carry on Toby’s dream of building a skate park; in doing so we started the 1st Annual Toby Eagle Bull Memorial Sk8 Jam in August 2003.”
“Reflecting back on how we begin is somewhat comical yet showed perseverance, one of our most prominent Lakota virtues. As a family and community, we joined together and built ramps out of wood year after year and requested donations from various programs for prize and skate materials. Our family and community were new/fresh to the skate culture when it came to judging a competition and building ramps. Regardless, we made the best of it and knew doing this was in memory of Toby and for our eager, passionate and courageous youth.”
“This year’s memorial is dedicated to remembering all our passed loved ones, especially our youth. We have asked families and community members to donate a board to the memorial in memory of a passed loved one. The donated board in memory of a loved one will go to a skater or a youth that has the passion to skate but has no board. In conjunction, today and from every year here on out, our family will remember Toby by honoring two ‘skaters of the days.’ Because of you, the skaters, as family and community we will continue to support you in your endeavors. Wopila!”
Jeanne Eagle Bull and her family are dedicated to partnering with the Stronghold Society in creating more and new opportunities for the youth of the Oglala Lakota Nation.
Contact Karin Eagle at firstname.lastname@example.org.