NORMAN — Here in Oklahoma it’s not a news flash that skateboarding is popular with Native American youth. From city to small towns across the state you’ll find kids of all descriptions in skate parks, on sidewalks and around school yards riding and performing tricks.
It’s also no surprise that Oklahomans figure prominently into a national exhibition featuring artists, skaters, photographers and filmmakers from coast to coast. “Ramp It Up: Skateboard Culture in Native America” opened Feb. 8 at the Sam Noble Museum of Natural History and runs through June 15.
Betsy Gordon, of the National Museum of the American Indian, curated the show. While her goal was to highlight the quality attributes of skateboard culture — instead of the stereotypes like skateboarders being disrespectful and destructive — Gordon said she faced opposition from professional colleagues who didn’t see the value of preserving and documenting skateboard culture.
“The story is that Indian Country is basically taking something and making it their own,” Gordon said. “It’s a unique culture and such a nurturer of creativity. It does attract a kind of non-conformist kid and the association with photography, filmmaking and graphics make them very visually sophisticated and I like skaters because of that. They’re smart and creative and the kind of kids you want in your museum even if they are a little anti-establishment.”
Much of the pushback was from Native Americans who wanted to know what skateboarding had to do with their culture. Deep seated reservations about skaters and the skateboard community led to the belief that it would link Native American youth and criminality in viewer’s minds.
“Some were asking why would I be glorifying and documenting the worst people of a community,” Gordon said. “I had those perceptions to deal with and it took around three years of consistent lobbying and advocating by me that there was something there to tell.”