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“Ramp It Up: Skateboard Culture in Native America” Opens at the National Museum of the American Indian

May 19, 2009

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian will open “Ramp It Up: Skateboard Culture in Native America” Friday, June 12, in the Sealaska Gallery. One of the most popular sports on Indian reservations, skateboarding has inspired and influenced American Indian and Native Hawaiian communities since the 1960s. The exhibition celebrates the vibrancy, creativity and controversy of American Indian skate culture and will be on view through Sept. 13.

The exhibition includes 28 objects and 45 images, including rare archival photographs, film of Native skaters and skate decks from Native companies and contemporary artists. Highlights include a never-before-seen 1969 photograph taken by skateboarding icon, Craig R. Stecyk III, of a skate deck depicting traditional Native imagery and 1973 home-movie footage of Zephyr surf team members Ricky and Jimmy Tavarez (Gabrielino-Tongva).

“The museum is eager to show how Indian Country has embraced and changed skateboard culture in America. The exhibition honors tribal communities’ efforts to connect with their young people through a positive activity like skateboarding,” said Kevin Gover (Pawnee/Comanche) director of the National Museum of the American Indian. “It is a vibrant visual documentation of an emerging culture unique to Native American youth.”

The exhibition features the work of visual artists Bunky Echo-Hawk (Yakama/Pawnee), Joe Yazzie (Navajo), Traci Rabbit (Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma) and Dustinn Craig (White Mountain Apache/Navajo) and highlights young Native skaters such as 20-year-old Bryant Chapo (Navajo) and 10-year-old Augustin and 7-year-old Armondo Lerma (Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians).

As skateboarding continues to rise in popularity in Indian Country, Native skaters and entrepreneurs have combined core lessons learned from the sport: strength, balance and tenacity with traditional tribal iconography and contemporary art to engage Native youth in their history and culture. “Ramp It Up” examines the role of indigenous peoples in skateboarding culture, its roots in ancient Hawaiian surfing techniques and the visionary achievements of contemporary Native skaters. Skateboarding combines demanding physical exertion, design, graphic art, filmmaking and music to produce a unique and dynamic culture. “Ramp It Up” illustrates how indigenous people and tribal communities have used skateboarding to express themselves and educate their youth.

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Eileen Maxwell
(202) 633-6615

Leonda Levchuk
(202) 633-6613

Related photos: 

4 Wheel Warpony (White Mountain Apache)

Photo couresty of Dustinn Criag (White Mountain Apache/Navajo), 2008.

Armonyo Hume (White Mountain Apache), member of 4 Wheel Warpony skate team.

Related photos: 

4 Wheel Warpony (White Mountain Apache) skate team

Photo courtesy of Dustinn Craig (WHite Mountain Apache/Navajo), 2008

Members of the 4-Wheel Warpony (White Mountain Apache) skate team in traditional 19th-century Apache scout dress.

Related photos: 

Armondo Lerma (Agua Caliente)

Photo courtesy of Rudy Burciaga, 2008

Armondo Lerma (Agua Caliente), age 7, lands a "kick-flip" at the inter-tribal All National Skate Jam in Albuquerque, N.M.

Related photos: 

Bunky Echo-Hawk (Yakama/Pawnee)

Photo courtesy of David Bernie, 2009

Contemporary artist and activist Bunky Ehco-Hawk (Yakama/Pawnee) holds three of the decks he designed for Native Skates.