Skateboard artists featured in Native Heritage Month celebration at State Capitol

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November is American Indian and Alaskan Native Heritage Month -- so naturally, the Lieutenant Governor's Office, which oversees the Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs, is celebrating with a show of skateboard art at the State Capitol. A public reception for the show, curated as part of the Colorado Creative Industries Creative Capitol series, will run from 3:30 to 5 p.m. in the Capitol's first floor lobby and Rotunda Gallery. The artwork will be on display through January 30.

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

"Skateboarding as a means of expression in itself and the art that so often goes with it have been a huge part of what we're calling our Live Life Call to Action movement," says featured artist Walt Pourier, an Oglala Lakota artist based in Denver. His graphics on decks for Wounded Knee Skateboards are featured in the exhibit, alongside the "Raven Cry" series of paintings he completed earlier this year during his artist-in-residence stint at the Denver Art Museum and photographs from this summer's One Gathering Skate for Life, an annual event at the Denver Skatepark hosted by Pourier's non-profit organization, the Stronghold Society.

Pourier's Denver-based graphic design firm, Nakota Designs, produces art for a number of Native American non-profit organizations, and his involvement with skateboarding has taken him all the way to the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian. His deck graphics for Wounded Knee -- including stark portraits of Black Elk, Crazy Horse and the White Buffalo -- have won him plenty of fans in the skateboarding world and among young Native skaters, but Pourier says getting local recognition in 2013 has been one of the biggest honors of his career.

"It really means a lot to be getting these opportunities, like the artist-in-residence thing at the Denver Art Museum, the Mayor's Diversity Award we won last year for our work with the Stronghold Society, and now to have our work hanging in the State Capitol," Pourier says. "We see Denver as center of Native country here in the United States, with a huge Native urban population, and these kinds of recognitions are really helping us to make Denver our base, a center point we can reach out from to serve this community and also the surrounding states and Native communities around us."

That work has included getting skateparks built at Pine Ridge in South Dakota and other reservations, and working with young people through other efforts like the Kimimila Age of the Daughters Gathering for young women and Tusweca Tiospaye, an annual Nakota Dakota language summit. "Our young people are learning the value of Native art, language, and culture, and not just preserving it or appreciating the historical value but very much making it a part of their lives now and in the future," Pourier says. "Nothing gives me greater hope for our Native youth than to overhear a bunch of kids out at the Denver Skatepark or the Wounded Knee 4-Directions skatepark in Pine Ridge, speaking to each other in Lakota or other Native languages."

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