Community through kickflips: Group using skateboarding to bring Indigenous youth together

Young people from Stoney Nakoda First Nation continued to make use of their skate park into late October. (David Mercer/CBC - image credit)
Young people from Stoney Nakoda First Nation continued to make use of their skate park into late October. (David Mercer/CBC - image credit)

Throughout the summer months, more than a dozen youth from Stoney Nakoda First Nation — about 80 kilometres west of Calgary — gather on a weekly basis to skateboard.

In late October's sunny weather, they continued to launch off ramps, grind rails and leap over obstacles when the jumps didn't work out.

Along with the clanks on metal and the clattering of flipped boards, the sound of laughter and casual conversation could be heard drifting from the group.

It's exactly the atmosphere Stuart Young says he dreamed of creating when he co-founded Cousins Skateboard Community, an Indigenous-led, non-profit group, about two years ago.

"We're really fortunate in that the things that used to separate us growing up, being on the outside, whether it's being a skateboarder [or] being an Indigenous kid, those are things now that we get to use to our advantage to build community," he said.

"And it's an incredible place to be."

David Mercer/CBC
David Mercer/CBC

The program launched in December 2020, when the group successfully won a bid for a mobile skate park from the City of Calgary. The city had been rotating the infrastructure through different communities while they built permanent skate parks.

Young says there's very few permanent facilities in Indigenous communities in the province, despite a growing interest from young people.

"There's all these great Indigenous skateboarders but not necessarily a place for them to do what they love," he said.

That's why he wanted to bring equipment, along with consistent, weekly programming — whether its lessons or after-school programs — to communities in Treaty 7.

David Mercer/CBC
David Mercer/CBC

The group's goal is to use skateboarding as a way to empower young people, build community and create safe gathering spaces. It's also a low-barrier sport, Young says, and that's important to him.

"For us who started this, we didn't grow up in households that could afford, let's say, a participation fee or anything like that, and that's why we skateboarded," he said. "So our programs are all offered at no cost to the youth."

Through donations and perseverance, they've kept the programs going. But eventually, they'd like to raise enough money to create permanent skate parks in the communities they serve.

Creating community

It's something Riley Kaquitts, who has skateboarded with Cousins for about a year in Mini Thni (Morley), a part of the Stoney Nakoda First Nation, would like to see, too.

He's at the community skate park almost every day, he says, learning new tricks and hanging out with friends. And on Wednesday evenings, when Cousins programming runs, dozens more youth show up to take part in their activities.

David Mercer/CBC
David Mercer/CBC

The community does have some donated equipment already, along with extra jumps, boards and helmets supplied by Cousins, but Kaquitts says it's not the same as the official parks found in places like Calgary, Cochrane and Canmore.

"It's a lot more [rough] here, like the ground is really hard and you get scratched up easily," he said, adding the structures are a bit too big for some younger kids to learn the sport.

"I think a permanent skate park would help kids get out of the house … it's a way to kind of get away from your problems, too."

Kaquitts's dad, Mark, helped to get some of the community's equipment up and running, but he says what's really made a difference is the mentorship, support and community built by the Cousins programming.

"Skateboarding is an opportunity for the youth to engage with other nations and get connected more," he said. "I have seen a lot of friendship building here.… It's all about fun for us."

David Mercer/CBC
David Mercer/CBC

Those feelings of camaraderie and belonging are what Young says he's most proud of.

"It's about engaging and empowering. It's about encouraging. It's about youth feeling free to be themselves. And skateboarding is the tool that we get to do that with," he said.

"We're not going to fix everything.… Our goal is to simply meet kids where they're at because we were kids that people did that for, and it changed our lives."