Skate Boarders Learn to Be Community OrganizersAug 15th, 2010 | By tcj | Category: 22-1: Native Activism, Fall 2010, Tribal College News
Through Sinte Gleska University’s (SGU) in-service/community activism policy, Keli Herman leads The Lords of Prairie Dogtown, a fundraising group dedicated to creating a free public skate park in White River, SD.
Herman is a staff member at SGU’s Sicangu Heritage Center, an SGU Art Institute alumna, and a long-time community volunteer. But the skateboarders and youth are the driving force behind their skatepark, she says. They began by carrying picket signs through a local parade with their skateboards. The signs read “We need a skate park!” and “Help us get a safe place to skate!” They then gathered over 200 signatures from citizens who support the park’s creation.
Youth created “photo op’s” for the local newspaper, gaining publicity and awareness. They also set out donation jars and held fundraisers, such as a hip-hop concert, snack stand, Halloween spook house, rummage sales, and popcorn ball sales at local events. Skateboarders presented their project to the South Central Resource Conservation and Development Council, which then took it under its wing.
Youth have learned valuable lessons and provided community activities in the process, says Herman, and so has she. “This project allowed me to gain valuable knowledge and skills including grant research and writing, project planning, publicity, working with youth, community activism, and making new connections with other programs,” says Herman.
Before the local skateboard group was formed, she says some locals viewed skateboarders as a nuisance. Recently, the city passed an ordinance making skates, scooters, and skateboards of all kinds unlawful throughout town. Youth, skaters and parents began circulating another petition asking that the city council rescind the new ordinance, and development of The Lords of Prairie Dogtown changed many people’s opinions.
“Our youth understand they are vital productive citizens of their world and hold the power to make a positive impact in society,” says Herman. “Our skate park provides a lasting recreational venue for area youth, and the achievement of this goal will increase the children’s self-esteem and their image as positive role models.” She also anticipates that the sense of ownership local youth have toward the skate park will lead to a decrease in vandalism, racism, and feelings of subjection.
The Lords of Prairie Dogtown was named after the Lords of Dogtown, the originators of the skateboard movement in the 1970s in California. The skateboarding movement is growing nationwide in Indian Country. The Smithsonian Institution created an exhibit, titled “Ramp it Up,” spotlighting “the vibrancy, creativity, and controversy of American Indian skate culture.” That exhibit was at the George Gustav Heye Center of the National Museum of the American Indian in New York City from December until Aug. 8, 2010.
The skate park was installed this summer. The successful completion of the skate park has served as a model for the collaboration of entities such as the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, The Rosebud Sioux Tribe, Tony Hawk Foundation, City of White River, South Dakota State University, Sinte Gleska University, South Central Resource Conservation and Development, O’Bryan Construction, American Ramp Company, Tribal Youth Affairs, and the local tribal youth.
“It demonstrates we can work together to create a better environment for our youth, and we believe in our youth,” says Herman. “And what is more important, our youth will believe in themselves.”