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With help from Pearl Jam, native American youth skate for their lives at ONE Gathering

Walt Pourier is the visionary behind the "ONE Gathering -- Skate for Life" event, which will ramp up Saturday at the Denver Skatepark. Drawing hundreds of young Native Americans from across Colorado and beyond, the Gathering will expose them to positive, community-building activities that celebrate heritage while building hope for the future.

Pourier knows firsthand how much that hope is needed: Though his Denver-based Stronghold Society, he works with youth on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota, where alcohol and drug abuse contribute to a tragically high suicide rate.Pourier, a storyteller, graphic designer and member of the Lakota tribe, recently opened the first of three state-of-the-art skate parks in Pine Ridge, with help from friends including Pearl Jam's Jeff Ament.

Now in its third year, the Gathering will feature skate competitions, vendors and music, including a set from The Bunny Gang, the Denver-based side project led by Flogging Molly's Nathan Maxwell. We asked Pourier to tell us a little bit about the event, which has become a summertime rite of passage for an underserved group of young people.

Westword: What does skateboarding have to do with life -- in your vision?

Walt Pourier: "Skateboarding Saves Lives" is a quote I hear again and again from all the skate legends who support our Stronghold Society Live Life Call to Action Campaigns. Our goal is to instill a belief system in this current generation that through these creative movements of skateboarding, music, art and design, film, photography, writing, spoken word, etc., they can live and express life at its grandest.

Skaters get ready to roll at the 2011 ONE Gathering.
Skaters get ready to roll at the 2011 ONE Gathering.

Why is it important for Native American youth to have the chance to come together once a year?

The Gathering is a skateboarding competition created to unite the youth of the Denver community with the Native American youth of Colorado and surrounding states. It is a means of outreach to educate local communities of the social and health challenges Native American youth face today -- to give them a place to gather and skate and listen to music from some awesome bands and just have fun. The competition will take place at the Denver Skatepark, located near the South Platte River, an historical gathering place for many Native American Tribes.

Youth are coming from across Colorado and other states. Who will be there?

We usually get a lot of kids from New Mexico, including a group called the Westside Boys. They wear shirts that say "Don't Hate Just Skate." We also have youth from Pine Ridge South Dakota, Lakota Country, Ute Mountain Ute Country here in Colorado, Oklahoma, and a group from Portland, Oregon this year. And, of course, our local skate-culture scene looks forwards to this event every year. So many help us to run it. It's a beautiful thing.

Skateboarding tends to be more popular among boys than girls, though that is changing a little. Can you tell us a bit about your work with young women?

The Kimimila "Age of the Daughters" Gathering is a project run by my sister Lonnie Pourier, and it is all about the young Native American girls. It's a day, a gathering all about them. We have crafts, song and dance, Zumba. We bring in elder grandmothers to speak with them about their culture, give them a space where they can be happy, write in journals, share in their grand ideas. It's not necessarily about skateboarding, but it can be in the future. We do so many other programs through the Stronghold Society and the the Kimimila "Age of the Daughters" Gathering is one of the most successful to date.

What's the latest with your project on the Pine Ridge reservation?

Six months ago, through the Stronghold Society we built a state-of-the-art WK4-Directions Skate Park with Jim Murphy of Wounded Knee Skateboards, Jeff Ament and Pearl Jam, VANS Off The Wall, Tony Hawk Foundation and Grindline Skateparks, and the local community. Our goal is to get three additional skateparks built on that reservation and then move from reservation to reservation, with the help of all these great individuals and many more.

On the Pine Ridge Reservation, the first of three Stronghold Society skateparks opened in early 2012.
On the Pine Ridge Reservation, the first of three Stronghold Society skateparks opened in early 2012.

You got some pretty heavy people to support this year's event. What's been Jeff Ament's role? How did Nathan Maxwell get involved?

Jeff Ament and Pearl Jam support our non-profit and help us financially to build skateparks. They also did a collaboration VANS/Pearl Jam Skate shoe of which the proceeds go to help build our skateparks. Jeff sent us a PSA to run for this event in Denver when Channel 93.3 offered to donate us the radio spot. Jeff Ament is a true, caring human being and his energy and support beyond words. We love this guy with all our hearts and are so humbled with his support. Along the way we run into so many great people who want to support this powerful outreach effort. Through a mutual friend, I met Nathan Maxwell's father, an awesome local artist who hooked me up with Nathan. These two, father and son, are such awesome spirits on human journey. When we talk we speak very deeply and about spiritual connections and life's movements, it's so awesome. These guys are pretty special to have offered up their band, The Bunny Gang, to play our event Saturday. So honored.

The free "One Gathering - Skate for Life" takes place at the Denver Skatepark on Saturday, July 14, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Visit the Stronghold Society for more information.