Honouring matriarchs at skateboard competition
- Trish Elliott | May 22, 2023
Skateboarding contests are high-decibel events, featuring adrenaline-pumping music and wheels thumping onto plywood ramps.
But on April 22, Regina’s normally boisterous Heritage Skatepark fell quiet as a circle of girls and women gathered around Elder and Knowledge Keeper Diane Kaiswatum of Piapot First Nation, for a pipe ceremony.
It was Elder Diane’s first time to lift the pipe at a skateboard park, and she was glad to meet the young athletes and their family members.
“It’s good because it’s learning, it’s teaching why we do the pipe ceremony,” she said after the ceremony. “We’re asking for prayers for everyone. In the circle our prayers are stronger.”
It was the skatepark’s first ceremony offered exclusively for female-identifying skaters. Elder Diane said they prayed for the safety of all the contestants -- male, female and two-spirit -- who were taking part in the Honktown Meltdown Skateboard Contest that day.
Elder Diane said one of her granddaughters has a skateboard. “It’s good young women are becoming more part of sports. I see a lot of them in hockey and baseball, so we’ve moved into it slowly,” she said.
Nine-year-old Ophelia Chapados was thrilled to be part of her first pipe ceremony. “I’ve only ever done smudging at school,” she said.
Elder Diane’s teachings were well remembered. “I learned that the feather she used is very important. I learned that when you take the pipe, you do one-two-three,” Ophelia said, showing the motions for receiving a pipe. “I learned that you have to take the pipe apart before you can stand up.”
But she said her biggest lesson was “that I could actually do the pipe ceremony, because I’m just nine.”
Ophelia’s mom, Jenni Stradeski, sat beside her daughter during the ceremony. “I am just so grateful to be welcomed into it, because I’m so interested in the culture,” she said.
She’s also happy her daughter has taken up a sport that requires no small amount of courage. “It’s amazing. I’m so proud of her trying new scary things,” she said with a laugh.
Olivia was excited to be in the Meltdown Contest. Skateboard events are called contests, not competitions, because the point is for everyone to have fun and cheer each other on. Increasingly this includes cheering for female-identifying skaters.
“It’s not just a male sport. Females can do just as good as males,” Ophelia said emphatically. But when asked who her favourite skateboarder is, she named a male: “My dad.”
“Dad” is David Chapados, vice-president of the Regina Skateboarding Coalition. The group has been working hard to create a space for skateboarders after their indoor facility was demolished to make way for Mosaic Stadium in 2013.
Nine years later, in March 2022, the skatepark re-opened with a two-year trial lease at the exhibition grounds. The park’s grand opening included a pipe ceremony, and it was recommended one be held at least once a year, Chapados explained.
At first glance, a skatepark may seem an unusual place for ceremony. However, skateboarding’s roots are in Indigenous Hawai’ian technology, art and culture, and it’s become an active space for expressing Indigenous identity in Treaty 4 and globally.
Regina’s skateboard community has been home to many well-known Indigenous athletes over the years, including legendary skateboarder Eddy Lugt, the flying Tapaquon brothers Jason, Sid and Mikey, and Colonialism Skateboards founder and artist Micheal Langan, to name a few.
This year’s female focus was meant to reflect the changing demographic of a traditionally male-dominated sport, Chapados said. He noted girls now outnumber boys signing up for lessons.
“The demographic is changing, and we want to make the space and build on it as more women get involved,” he said.
The girls are still shy at joining contests, making Ophelia a trailblazer as one of two female participants in her category, and a good example for others to follow. The day gifted her with an armload of prizes for her first-place run, a grin from ear to ear, and important teachings from an Elder.