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Skateboarding for culture

Emma McLaughlin The Eastern Door

Do you happen to be looking for something that combines Kanien’kehá:ka culture with skateboarding and art? Then head down to the Kanien’kehá:ka Onkwawén:na Raotitióhkwa Language & Cultural Center (KOR) where skateboards featuring designs by seven artists from five different communities are being sold to support an annual Block Party and Go Skate day in Kahnawake.

“I used to be a skateboarder, and even before I worked here I always thought it would be fun to create my own skateboards in some sort of way. That idea just stayed in my head, and then in the last year I started doing a lot more work with artists within the community,” explained Scott Berwick, manager at KOR’s arts and archives department. “I reached out to cultural centres across other Mohawk communities to see if they’d like to be a part of it, and everybody was really interested.”

The project features designs from Six Nations, Kenhtè:ke, Kanesatake, Akwesasne, and Kahnawake, with each community selling all seven boards at designated locations.

The artists worked from a template provided by Berwick, who provided feedback before sending the designs to a specialized printer.

“When everybody works together, it just goes really smoothly. Especially when everybody’s really interested in the idea,” he said. 

Kahnawake is represented with two boards, one designed by Maya Taylor-Barnett, a.k.a. Lunchtime Grime, and the other by Tahothoratie Cross.

“For my design, I wanted to represent the kind of work I do while also telling the story of our people,” said Cross, whose design features a white board with black and grey illustrations and wampum bead detailing. “I do a lot of line work, and I wanted to keep that simplicity on the board.”

Cross refined his ideas with support from Berwick.

“I had a few different ideas, one where there was a turtle as the centrepiece, one with an ironworker exploring that kind of history, but at the end of the day I ended up on the story about how Turtle Island was created, and how the Sky Woman fell from the Sky World,” he said. 

Paying attention to the details, Cross incorporated specific imagery related to the creation story.

“One element that went through all three designs that I mentioned was the pattern or weave of a basket. I really connect the idea of Kahnawake, our community, being a weave of people,” he said. “When we’re really strong and we can connect and we’re all on one page, we’re much like a basket. We’re intertwined, weaved into each other’s lives.”

Taylor-Barnett also paid close attention to details in designing her board.

“I like to focus a lot on the visuals, with lots of colours and patterns. For me, the devil is in the details,” she said. “A big part of combining my contemporary art with our culture is the use of our language.”

Bearing in mind the importance of language and culture, Barnett settled on a design representing the Hooflady, a Kanien’kehá:ka legend depicted as a beautiful woman with hooves under a long dress. 

“Since I was a little girl I was always infatuated with our scary stories and legends that kept you up at night; a big part of my childhood was being almost obsessed with learning the folklore of our little town,” Taylor-Barnett said. “In time it has definitely come out in my art, and I’m so honoured to be able to show my representation of the Hooflady in this way.”

Each board costs $90, with four-board bundles selling for $320. Boards can be bought at KOR, and proceeds will go towards the annual Go Skate Day and Block Party.

“International Go Skate Day is on June 21, and it’s also Indigenous Day, so I knew I wanted to do some sort of skateboarding event in the community on that day,” Berwick explained. “So we organized that all the money we make from sales go towards the event we have that day at the skatepark. That can be skateboarding gear, or rental of stuff, that kind of thing. And then I asked tourism to help me out with the organization and promotion, and it turned into a Block Party too.”

Last year’s Block Party saw soccer games between Akwesasne and Kahnawake girls teams, lacrosse events, archery, and a community mural. Berwick explained that this year, he plans to do an event of a similar scale. 

“We want to do the same this year and really make it a big community event,” he said. “I want the project to grow every year and get other communities, even up north or out west, to be involved.”

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Eve is a reporter with the Eastern Door. She has also covered harm reduction and social justice issues for the Montreal Gazette, The Breach, Filter Magazine, and more.

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Eve is a reporter with the Eastern Door. She has also covered harm reduction and social justice issues for the Montreal Gazette, The Breach, Filter Magazine, and more.