Indigenous Community Center launches Native youth skate team in Lawrence

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The Indigenous Community Center is aiming to help local Native youth build confidence and healthy habits through its new skate team. 

The team is open to skaters of all kinds, from rollerbladers to skateboarders and beyond, united by one simple goal: to have fun.

“We’re focusing on making a place for Indigenous youth to feel seen and validated and cool,” says Moniqué Mercurio, an ICC vice chair and committee head, of the Navajo and Esselen nations.

Mercurio says the need for this program is deeper than ever, as many young people are emerging from the pandemic feeling disconnected from friends and physical activity. Though the skate team is focused on youth aged 13 to 25, the ICC is welcoming everyone to join the community and show support. This includes veteran skaters who want to share their experiences, people who enjoy the scene but don’t really skate, or other Indigenous Lawrencians who can encourage others and be part of the community.

“We just want to create a healing space for people to come out and build relationships and be together, similar to the idea behind our farm,” says Robert Hicks, ICC chair and a member of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe of Nevada. 

The ICC hosted its first skate meet Saturday at Edgewood DIY Skate Park, next to the East Lawrence Recreation Center in the Brook Creek Neighborhood. The park was a community-built project led by the Lawrence Skaters Association in 2016. It was the city’s first — and remains the only — skatepark located east of Iowa Street.

Young skaters, their parents, and other community members joined the meetup to show support. Another group that attended was a small team from River Rat Skate Shop, a brand that started as a screenprinting studio but expanded in 2018 to become Lawrence’s only skate shop. 

Justin Shiney, co-owner of River Rat, has helped establish the shop’s reputation as a community advocate for grassroots organizations like the ICC, especially when it comes to encouraging local BIPOC voices. Naturally, the River Rat team has become a critical partner for the Native youth skate team.

“When Justin and I were talking about the skate team, he was too excited. He volunteered to come out with his guys for some quick drills and safety courses, or doing a ramp building session,” Mercurio says.

Shiney believes in the power of skating to bring people together. He says the local skate scene is a diverse group of people who love to actively participate in improving parks and encouraging the next generation of skaters. An Indigenous youth skate team would help build on that legacy.

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“Skating is all about creative expression and being around other like-minded individuals. It just feels like one big family. And then you can take that family outside of the skatepark, and those people will be there for you anytime you need their help or support,” Shiney says.

As Mercurio and Hicks lead the skate team into the future, they want to keep the focus where it needs to be: on the community. Rather than deciding on a structure for the skate team, they plan to stay fluid and get input from those who will be participating. But they do have some ideas for what it could grow into.

One idea is participating in competitions. River Rat hosts a yearly skate competition at Centennial Park, but ICC has its sights set even further. With skate competitions happening across the country, the organization may build the capacity to sponsor its skate team’s competition fees and travels across skate lines.

“It’s really powerful to have an Indigenous team to rally behind, like for me, it’s cool to see Maori teams skating in New Zealand, and Apache youth skateboard teams. With all the community support we’ve already seen, we could bring that here to Lawrence,” Hicks says.

And beyond skating, the team is just one more reason to gather as a Native community. Mercurio suggests making it a family-based program that hosts potlucks in the future at the skatepark. 

The bottom line? It’s a way to build space for Indigenous people to get together and connect, starting with the youth.

“This is some of the most potent medicine that my kids could have from their community,” she says.

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Jordan Winter (she/her), a contributor to The Lawrence Times, is a 2019 KU grad with degrees in journalism and political science.

Check out her work at jrdnwntr.com. See more of her work for the Times here.

More coverage:

Molly Adams / Lawrence Times

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