As you may already know, we took a trip with Levis skateboarding this summer to the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota to check out a skatepark they were finishing up. On the Indian reservation we met a ton of kids, one of which was Bubba, a dude with a good backside carve and some heavy responsibilities.
At 19 years old, Bubba works as a suicide prevention counselor on the reservation, helping kids from the community battle depression through skateboarding and support. With it being one of the few opportunities for me to talk with a native, I took the chance to ask him about his job, as well as the appropriation of Native American culture, drugs, and what skaters the Lakota kids even like these days…
So what’s the deal, do you prefer to be called Native American or American Indian?
I would prefer to be called Native American. Our tribe is Oglala Sioux tribe, but whenever you are filling out an application for race or ethnicity it says “American Indian,” but I usually put “Other” and write in “Native American.” With Native American, the word native comes first. It was who was on the land first. Just about everyone I know prefers to label themselves as Native Americans.
Are there any famous Native American pro skateboarders that you know of?
Well… not really, no. The only people I know that I look up to in skateboarding is Walt Pourier, and my dad used to skate. But I don’t know any famous people. It would be cool to know a pro Native skater, but it doesn’t bother me that there really aren’t any. I don’t think a Native American has pushed themselves to those limits on a skateboard yet at this point in time.
How do you feel about skate companies using Native American imagery on their decks, like these ones made by Zero?
It just depends on how they interpret it. If there’s a meaning behind it, then I don’t mind at all. But a lot of people throw on a headdress, the thing with the feathers that people see, and a lot of people wear that as a costume or joke and they don’t realize that the only people in our tribes that can wear those are our tribal leaders or the Chief. So if I saw it on a skateboard deck, I would examine it a little bit and try to see if it has any meaning as to why it’s there.
Are trendy tricks like no complies and wallies popular on the reservation?
People are doing them… No complies are just something fun. I do them to laugh around when I don’t wanna do heelflips or something. Or do bonelesses. It’s just something to get used to, it’s a different style.
I didn’t see many walls around… must be kind of hard.
[Laughs] Yeah… If you were were looking to do those you probably would have to find a school or hospital or something.
Have you ever heard of the term “mallgrab” before?
No, I haven’t. Is that a big thing in New York?
It’s used in many places. If you carry a skateboard by the trucks it’s lame according to some.
I see a lot of younger kids carrying it by the trucks. One time some older kids across the skatepark told me like, “Hey man, you’re just some poser, you see how you hold your skateboard?” But what’s it really matter, you know?
What was one of the first skate videos you saw growing up?
I met this guy named Jordan, a local skater who’s won some contests around our local town. We have this ollie contest and he was defending champ for a couple of years in a row. I was asking him who he watches and how he learned. He showed me this video called Altered Route by Kilian Martin. I was so amazed by someone spinning on a board and someone doing a 360 shuv to a bigger spin. That was one of the first videos I watched. From there I started watching Richie Jackson and Bob Burnquist and some of Tony Hawk’s old footage. Other than that I just watch people live.
Have you ever had a DVD or VHS?
There was one DVD I had.. one of the Chocolate videos. I’m not really sure which one though.
Who are your favorite skaters?
Paul Rodriguez, Bob Burnquist on Megaramp, Killian Martin, and Richie Jackson.
Skating aside, you live and work on the Pine Ridge reservation?
Yessir. I’ve been working here for about 5 years, ever since I was a freshman in high school. I’m 19 now. My sister tried to commit suicide and it was kind of life changing for me, so I took a different route. I saw my family get torn apart, I’ve seen some of my closest friends pass away from drug and alcohol abuse over the years. My father was going down that route, but he recently just got out of rehab. Because of that my sister got really depressed to the point where she wanted to kill herself, and after that I reached out my hand to her and was there for her. Now I work with the Suicide Prevention program. I think people relate to me well because I’m closer to their age.
What type of drugs cause problems on the reservation?
Robitussin, the cold medicine, that’s a big one here. But just the same as cities, marijuana, cocaine, meth, all of it on the reservation. There’s not many work places here, so the unemployment rate is really high and I think that’s one of the major reasons why people don’t see much hope and turn to that stuff. They just wanna give up as soon as they see they can’t get a job, so they turn to alcohol and drugs to deal with the other problems in their lives. There are opportunities here, but you have to be educated and experienced to get a lot of them.
A lot of teenagers around here get caught up in partying and they end up accidentally having children and then a lot of them don’t follow through and raise them right. So then the grandparents that are around are raising the grandchildren. It’s crazy, but nice to be around a lot of kids, to be there for them when nobody else is.
Does your tribe still have any rituals that involve peyote?
Not in our tribe actually. I think other tribes do it down South, but we don’t do it. We go into the sweat lodge and do a ceremony there. We connect with the spirits that come in and we replenish ourselves. We do sundances, but no peyote around here.
Why do you think skating is so popular on the reservation compared to traditional sports?
Probably because it’s a new thing. Skating has been around for years and it has a history, but as soon as it hit the reservation it was a whole new outlet for us. They built this crazy skatepark with this huge bowl, everybody was just amazed by the look of it… how big it was and the possibilities it brought. Skating is a big outlet here, especially for all the younger kids because they don’t have anything to do all day. That’s why I think so many people got involved, to say that they can skate the bowl or ollie off something. There’s just so much possibility on a skateboard. I mean, when the park went up I was just amazed by a huge concrete bowl sitting in the dirt. There’s something about it.
Plus, a lot of sports are seasonal, but skateboarding you can do all year long. There was a point when the park just went up when a group of us would sit at the park and scrape off all the ice just so we could skate it in the winter.
Who are some of the kids on the Reservation’s favorite pros?
The Levi’s team came down and everyone was amazed by Josh Matthews. You should’ve see the kids, like as soon as Josh Matthews hopped out of the car, they were at a standstill. They just look up to pro skaters so much and want to be around them and be apart of everything that includes skateboarding. They get their energy off of that. Every time we go Denver for the One Gathering they are amazed by just seeing the local Denver skaters. Everybody looks up to Nyjah, I know some older skaters around here that look up to the older guys like Geoff Rowley, Bob Burnquist, and other guys from the ’90s. A fair amount know about Rodney Mullen and of course, Tony Hawk. I guess Tony Hawk is a legend around everywhere. But the kids love watching Street League and Dew Tour, and thats’s how a lot of us learn our tricks. We watch YouTube, see how the pros do it, and practice it and get it.
What are your favorite skate brands?
I like Vans. I like Chocolate.
Wounded Knee is one of the few native skateboard brands yeah?
I ride for them, I support them. After hanging with the founders Jim Murphy and Walt, I realized Jim wasn’t about just coming down and throwing around the Wounded Knee Massacre event or that ground like it was nothing. It has a point to it that is behind it all.
It rains a lot there, right? You guys skate in the rain ever?
Oh yeah, if we are skating outside and a storm is rolling up we will keep skating if we aren’t done. We just keep going. Skating in the rain you can slide out and bust your head open, but if you really practice your footing enough, and you come straight down on the ground, it shouldn’t matter the weather. Deathwish boards get old and weather warped and chips away more easily that Real’s, the lifespan is shorter on those decks. I suggest the kids get a Real deck or Mini Logo. If you have Real deck it can take that weather a bit better than another type of deck.
Do you have a unique Lakota style of skateboarding? Or any special ways you live your life by?
Nobody skates the same way, it’s different person to person. But I am part of the Oglala Sioux tribe. We’re a strong tribe, we try to live with respect. We respect our older peers, like if I go into my grandmas house, I don’t just go and sit down, I get her a cup of tea or something to eat first, I’ll get it for her just to make sure she’s comfortable before me. It’s always about respecting your peers. And respecting yourself and what’s around you too, because it’s all a gift. Mother Earth, we have to give back to Mother Earth and treat it the way we want it to treat us, because it won’t live forever.