By the end of August, Native youth at Pine Point on the White Earth Reservation will be hitting the quarter pipes, half pipes, obstacles and ramps in a new skate park using part of a $100,000 grant from the Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee Legacy Fund.
The skate parks, planned for three White Earth Reservation communities, will buy much more than a place for the reservation’s youth to learn and show off their skateboarding, BMX biking, inline skating and scooter skills, says Clinton Alexander, a public health advisor for the Health Division of the White Earth Reservation.
“To me and others, it is a public health intervention – physical, mental and emotional.”
Tribal Chairman Terrance “Terry” Tibbetts also sees the parks as a path to a healthier tomorrow. “I want everybody to recognize, keep focus on who we are doing this for. These are our children that are going to be affected by this,” he told the Park Rapids Enterprise at the July 17 announcement of the grant from the Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee Legacy Fund.
When Alexander, who grew up in a small northern community on the reservation, learned his public health job would include shepherding the skate park projects, he asked family and friends about their experiences.
“I had some relatives who skate. I started talking to them. I had an older neighbor; he told me, ‘Skating is life.’ … I found out talking to people that most skaters will talk about how skating saved their lives.”
Skate parks and the energy they generate can combat much of what confronts tribal public health concerns for young people, discovered Alexander, who jokingly admits to learning “dude lingo” while helping to advance the skate park project.
Such parks have been credited with everything from aiding suicide prevention to battling obesity and diabetes, from improving individual self-confidence to reducing community crime.
“It’s been an eye opener,” Alexander said. “Law enforcement uses them as ‘green zones;’ they deter crime because of the activity there. At Pine Ridge, they’re using it as an intervention for suicide, along with drug and alcohol issues facing our youth.”
The Pine Ridge project, he learned, is part of the Stronghold Society, but inner city skate park projects, like in San Diego, also point to surprisingly broad benefits. A study connected to San Diego’s creation of a skate park purported that “Skateboarding, and skate parks specifically, can facilitate the development of increased self-esteem and self-efficacy, lasting social connections, social capital, opportunities for leadership, and a strong sense of social belonging.”
All of that makes sense to Alexander. “If you’re angry or have emotion issues, you don’t join teams. Skate boarding can provide a method of coping, or dealing with these and other issues.”
Spending time at a skate park, though, brings inner focus through repetition while learning new moves and burns off emotional turmoil through exhausting physical activity and concentration. While not a “team” sport, activities at the skate park often build relationships with more skilled skaters or bikers helping others.
“It just seems common sense that tribal communities do these,” Alexander said.
As to whether skate parks would be popular on the White Earth Reservation, Alexander and others had plenty of proof before the Super Bowl Legacy Fund announcement and during it.
Two days before the grant announcement, 80 young people from White Earth attended the X Games (July 13-16) in Minneapolis at the Minnesota Vikings’ new U.S. Bank Stadium, where the 2018 Super Bowl will be held.
On the announcement day, just how much they were inspired by watching the competitions showed in the “pop up” skate park done on a portion of the outdoor basketball court at Pine Point on the White Earth Reservation. By 9 a.m., young people, some brought in on buses, packed the park.
“It was 90 degrees out there on tar, and they were eating it up,” Alexander said. “They were all bound and determined to skate.”
Kevin Robinson, who set the world record 84-foot-gap power-assisted bicycle flip last year, spoke at the announcement, along with dignitaries from the White Earth Nation and representatives of the Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee. Robinson is a founder of the Shred Hate initiative to end bullying. “Shred,” as Alexander has learned with his new-found skate park language skills, comes from intense practice and participation. “Shred it and tear it up, tear up that course,” he explained, adding that it can help dissipate anger and anxiety, too. “Just shred it up with skate sweat; you just sweat it off.”
“This day marks an important milestone for many kids and families in this community,” said Dana Nelson, vice president of Legacy and Community Partnerships for the Host Committee. “The addition of this skate park means so many children will have a chance to engage in a fun, healthy activity that will positively shape their character, health, discipline and personality as they grow to be leaders in here White Earth.”
The $100,000 grant to the White Earth Reservation is one of six Super Bowl Legacy Fund grants to tribal projects. The host committee, using a $1 million investment from the National Football League, has committed to giving out 52 grants – one a week – in the year leading up to the 2018 Super Bowl LII in Minneapolis.
In addition to the skate park grant, the Legacy Fund gifted $100,00 to replace playground equipment at the Grand Portage Community Center, $50,000 for field time and equipment for the Twin Cities Native Lacrosse, and $50,000 to create a teaching kitchen at Dream of Wild Health, an organic farm dedicated to reconnecting Native youth and families to indigenous plants and diets, and nearly $100,000f for the Mille Lacs community gardens. Additional tribal projects are online to receive grants before the end of the year, according to a Legacy Fund representative. The latest grant announcement, coming August 8, gives $100,000 to the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe to purchase and stock a mobile teaching kitchen, reported by KARE11 .
Meanwhile, at White Earth Reservation, the first skate park, the Sons and Daughters Initiative Skate Park next to Pine Point School’s playground, will be finished by this Friday, August 18, and open by next week. The skate park contractors, themselves skateboarders, are already encouraging the local youth to try the sport. The White Earth Tribal Council has secured gifts of 100 high-quality skate boards from the Target and Marshall foundations. The council also is collaborating with several groups, such as the White Earth Health Division and the local Boys & Girls Club to teach skating, biking and rollerblading techniques.
“This skate park will be an opportunity for kids to discover a talent and passion for a sport they may never have been exposed to otherwise,” Alexander said. It will also be an opportunity, he hopes, for healing and good health for the seven generations that start today and, perhaps, skate to healthier lives and a more promising future for the whole community.
“We’re going to keep moving in the right direction with these things,” Chairman Tibbetts said. “The whole purpose is to get our kids up off the couch, keep that sedentary lifestyle away from them. Get the video games put away and get them on a skateboard. We’re looking to the future. These kids are our leaders.”