Native Village 
Youth and Education News

October 2012

Pine Ridge: Movement on the Rez
Condensed by Native Village

South Dakota: Alcoholism may run rampant on the Pine Ridge Reservation, but the reservation itself is dry. Alcohol sales are prohibited.

So where does the alcohol come from? Too often, it comes from Whiteclay, Nebraska, a small town only two miles outside reservation borders.

Whiteclay's population ranges from 14-17 adults and is composed of four liquor stores that sell nearly 13,000 cans of beer a day.

According to Tribal Police, over 1,000 DUI's are issued yearly along the two-mile stretch between Pine Ridge and Whiteclay. Similarly, 90% of criminal cases on the reservation are alcohol related.

Walt Pourier, Oglala Lakota and founder of The Stronghold Society, has not lost hope. In a community where 80% of adults suffer from alcoholism, Pourier finds beauty.  "So many people come here searching for the ugly, but [the Lakota people] are so spiritual," he says.

With poverty, alcoholism, suicide, and rape forced onto their daily lives, most Pine Ridge youth face uncertain futures. The Stronghold Society's mission is to rebuild and heal the native spirit of Pine Ridge through investing in youth. The aim is to "inspire confidence, creativity, hope, and ambition for the youth of native and non-native communities…through creative movements."

"The stronghold is a place where the community regroups. It's a place to stand together and face life's challenges," Pourier said.

Recently the Stronghold Society teamed up with Wounded Knee Skateboards, Vans, the Tony Hawk Foundation, and Jeff Ament of Pearl Jam to build The Wounded Knee 4-Directions Skate Park.

Wounded Knee 4-Directions Skate Park is less than a year old. Jim Murphy, the owner of Wounded Knee Skateboards, also directs The Stronghold Society's skate programs. Before working alongside Lakota youth, he had had never built a skate park with impoverished children.

"I traveled to South Dakota to meet Chief Arvol Looking Horse to explain to him what we were hoping to do," began Murph, "and to be gain approval for our company name. My skateboard was the thing that kept me focused and allowed me to channel anger into something positive. I knew that's what I wanted to help do for the youth at Pine Ridge."

At first, Pine Ridge residents were skeptical, but once the team began digging dirt and laying cement, the Lakota children were right beside them digging with their hands.

"When Jeff Ament got out here with his guys we asked them where they wanted to stay while we worked," explained Murphy, "but they all decided to sleep outside on site so we could spend every last penny on concrete."

The park took six weeks to build. Due to a lack of funding, it remains incomplete. "We'd like to finish our half pipe and get some more things for a street course," said Pourier.

Pine Ridge is the second largest reservation in the country and in 1975 was named the most dangerous place to live in America. Since then, Pine Ridge has struggled to improve its stature among cities in the United States.

"Skating gives these kids hope," said Pourier, "they never want to leave [the skatepark]; the police have to make them go home each night."

Pourier and Murphy travel to Pine Ridge as frequently as possible. While neither lives on the rez or in South Dakota, their connection is rooted deeper than the skate park. Both have built relationships with Pine Ridge's young residents and hold each child to a high moral standard. Spiritually and emotionally, they've adopted all of the skaters at Pine Ridge.

Pourier and Murphy hope to develop future skate parks, including three more on Pine Ridge.  Meanwhile, with each trip the men bring hundreds of dollars of the best skateboard equipment and clothing to the skaters. "When we get the chance to visit, we have to make it count," said Murphy.

Every day the park is crowded with children as young as two. Joe Mesteth, 25, is often there, acting as a mentor and friend to the young skaters, teaching them to skate and cheering them on, "There's no reason to be afraid of falling off your board," said Mesteth, "it only hurts for a little while and the pain lets you know you're alive."

Following the lead of Pourier, Murph, and Mesteth, the young skaters invest in each other. The skate park is a safe haven, a place with hierarchy or hostility. Even the youngest child knows that their peers will pick them up if they  fall, will teach them new tricks, and will cheer on their efforts.

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