The Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee Legacy Fund awarded the White Earth Reservation Tribal Council a $100,000 grant to build the reservation's first skate park.
"We are excited. This is a super-big deal for us," said Terri Darco, CEO of the White Earth Reservation Boys and Girls Club. "This is for harm reduction and for youth to have positive, alternative choices."
The Sons and Daughters Initiative Skate Park advances the Ojibwe tribe's goals to improve the long-term health of children and families on the reservation by providing a place for outdoor recreation in a community with few nearby parks and resources.
The new skate park will be located next to Pine Point School's playground.
"We're so rural there's not a lot of options for our kids. To put in a skate park and then they're also putting in a BMX track, that's two things for kids to do that are positive things," said Chris Schulz, Pine Point School principal. "It's going to be open to any kids in the community. This'll be great."
About 150 kids from the Waubun, Mahnomen, Rice Lake, Callaway, Ogema, White Earth and Pine Point Boys and Girls Clubs were bussed to the school for a July 17 groundbreaking ceremony.
"So today's the big media blitz. ESPN will be here, so it's super exciting," said Darco. "The kids will all leave with a skateboard, but they don't know that yet."
Target donated 100 skateboards. The White Earth Boys and Girls Club, along with the White Earth Tribal Police Department, purchased additional ones.
A healthy legacy
The grant is part of the Super Bowl Legacy Grant Program, made possible each year by a $1 million contribution courtesy of the NFL Foundation and complemented by the Super Bowl Host Committee.
Through its 52 Weeks of Giving campaign, the Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee (MSBHC) launched a unique, year-long effort to make Super Bowl LII a statewide event by awarding 52 communities with grants that will help improve the health and wellness of Minnesota's young people.
Thus far, funds have been donated to Duluth, Willmar, Alexandria, Bemidji and others.
The MSBHS is a private, nonprofit corporation formed to plan and execute Super Bowl LII. Working in partnership with the Minnesota Department of Health's Statewide Health Improvement Program (SHIP) and based on the recommendations of SHIP's community health boards, the Legacy Fund is providing grants every week during the 52 weeks leading up to Super Bowl LII.
"This is the first skate park build the 52 Weeks of Giving campaign has had the privilege of contributing to in Minnesota," said Dana Nelson, vice president of Legacy and Community Partnerships for MSBHC. "This day marks an important milestone for many kids and families in this community. The addition of this skate park means so many children will have a chance to engage in a fun, healthy activity that will positively shape their character, health, discipline and personality as they grow to be leaders in here White Earth."
"The bulldozers are already going behind me," she said. Giving grants each week is "so much fun and fun is what it's all about. Fun is being more physically active."
Focus on future leaders
Monday's groundbreaking began with a drum ceremony and blessing.
On behalf of the MSBHC, Nelson presented a $100,000 check to the White Earth Reservation Tribal Council.
Council Chairman Terry Tibbetts said, "I want everybody to recognize, keep focus on who we are doing this for. These are our children that are going to be affected by this."
This skate park is only the beginning, he added. The council intends to place parks in several more communities, including Naytahwaush and Mahnomen.
"We're kicking into gears and we're going to keep moving in the right direction with these things. The whole purpose is to get our kids up off the couch, keep that sedentary lifestyle away from them. Get the video games put away and get them on a skateboard," he said. "We're looking to the future. These kids are our leaders."
"For kids in our community, this skate park will be an opportunity for kids to discover a talent and passion for a sport they may never have been exposed to otherwise," said Clinton Alexander, public health advisor and project lead, White Earth Public Health Services. "By introducing them to skating, biking and rollerblading, our children will be exposed to fun and comradery. But they also will realize long-term benefits of fitness that can help reduce chronic illnesses like diabetes that have devastating impact on Native American peoples and the community here in White Earth."
The White Earth Reservation Tribal Council will collaborate with the local Boys and Girls Club and other project partners to teach kids proper skating, biking and blading techniques so they continue to improve skills, gain confidence in their ability and maintain interest in the sport.
The skate park will be designed with traditional Native American culture and art to reflect the local community's Anishinaabeg heritage.
White Earth Nation is Minnesota's largest and most populous reservation, encompassing 1,300 square miles and serving as the homeland for over 20,000 band members.
Professional BMX rider Kevin Robinson, nicknamed "K-Rob," spoke at the July 17 dedication ceremony.
Robinson, a 10-time X Games champion and four-time gold medalist, holds the Guinness World Record for the longest backflip on a BMX bike.
After retiring in 2013, he became an ESPN commentator. He's also an advocate for the Shred Hate initiative, which aims to reduce bullying through community engagement. In the past year, he visited 130-plus schools to discuss anti-bullying and character-building.
Action sports, like skateboarding and BMX biking, weren't socially accepted when Robinson was growing up in Rhode Island.
"I was always a skinny, little kid. I just got picked on. I grew up in a rough area," he recalled. "My little bicycle has taken me all over the world. I've been to over 30 countries. I've gotten to experience so many things because of my bike. I've met all kinds of amazing people, all through the great sport of action sports."
Some kids don't identify with a team sport, he added, instead preferring individual activities.
"The great thing is the community that you build by hanging out at your skate parks, riding with fellow riders, encouraging one another to learn new tricks."
K-Rob's visit to the reservation wrapped up an exciting few days for children in White Earth. On July 15, about 80 children from the area attended X Games events at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.