Skateboarding

Skateboard Decks Highlighting First Nations Issues are Super Popular in Saskatchewan

The debut design from Colonialism Skateboards brings the history of the Pass and Permit System to halfpipes across the province.

by Sierra Bein
Aug 31 2015, 4:57pm

This is what a Pass from the Pass and Permit system looked like. Courtesy Colonialism Boards Co.

Micheal Langan remembers his first skateboard from 20 years ago: a scratched-up John Drake Alien Workshop deck with a graphic of a red and blue sparrow.

"It was a used one, and I remember my mom didn't have much money at the time," he said, though she managed to also get him some trucks and hardware, and he started learning how to skate, instantly falling in love with the sport.

"Just the sounds, you know, the sound it made, the board going on the ground and just everything about skateboarding caught my attention," he added. "All my senses were just like, 'Oh my god, this is fucking awesome.'"

He kept the old school deck until it was thrown out by his family while cleaning the house. He was never able to find another one like it, but he says he would pay whatever price for it if he could.

According to Langan, all the kids were obsessed with having the coolest design and showing them off when they went skating in their small town just outside Cote First Nations on the eastern edge of Saskatchewan.

Backside 180 nose grind. Courtesy Micheal Langan.

Langan grew up moving with his cousins between Cote and Regina, where he saw huge differences between life on a reserve and in the city—differences that were deeper than just the quality of skate spots.

"Before, I remember there were alcohol problems there, as a kid, and some weed. But now, it's like there's an epidemic of addiction with methadone and stuff like that," he said about the reserve.

"On my reserve you can't even drink the water. There are so many reserves [where] they can't drink their water, they have to go get bottled water," he said. "I just see how much the Indian Act has done on First Nation reserves, it took a huge toll on them. If more people would understand that legislation, they would understand the issues happening in Aboriginal communities."

These experiences informed his decision to start designing his own skateboards and create decks that teach about the issues he's seen his whole life—colonialism, genocide, and other Aboriginal rights issues that have survived generations.

The first board he created under the banner Colonialism Skateboards carries the image representing the Pass and Permit System, which was designed to regulate Indigenous peoples' movements and economic activities. It essentially confined Aboriginal peoples to reserves, and was still in use up until 1960.

360 flip. Photo Courtesy Micheal Langan.

The current deck design is a copy of an actual pass giving written permission for a person named Big Prairie Head to leave the reserve to sell chickens. The pass reads that it is only valid until sunset. If you didn't make it back before the time indicated on the pass, you could be fined or imprisoned.

"Some parents had some kids in residential schools, and they needed the pass system to go and visit their children," he explained. "Sometimes their children didn't even come back and they don't know what happened to their kids."

Langan's friend, Noel Wendt, is the owner of one of the stores selling the Colonialism skateboards across Saskatchewan. They met through the skate community about 15 years ago.

"We have sold so many—as of yesterday I think he literally had four boards left out of his initial 50, so that was only in a couple weeks, so it's pretty amazing. It's our best selling board right now. Hands down," he said. "We had one family come from one of the reserves around Regina and they bought three completes just because of what it was."

Wendt says that although it's common for people to want to support local brands, it's not often that they start to sell so well after only a couple of weeks.

"People are very fickle, they're gonna want this brand or this brand, and [be] somewhat loyal to those brands especially the boards—you get used to a certain shape and feel," he explained.

Langan just submitted another order for a new board that will feature an image of a solemn class picture from a residential school. Other designs Langan considered creating include Poundmaker, and artwork by artists in the community that still focus on colonialism.

Langan became motivated to do this project after reading more about the Canadian history of First Nations, and how it affects people today. His grandfather, Senator Henry Langan, was also involved in helping on the Cote reserve, his main goal was to create better education for his people.

The next board design for Langan's company. Image credit is Glenbow Museum in Calgary, Alberta.

He has also been planning to donate part of his earnings to a charity such as Carmichael Outreach, where he says some Aboriginal people in need go to find help in their region.

Wendt has high hopes for his friend, and has been able to see first hand the growth and future potential of the project being able to get Langan's message moving.

"You have to think of new and creative ways to spread messages, especially in this age when there's a million distractions around. And if it happens to be skateboarding that does it, that's amazing."

Although the purpose of these boards is still primarily to educate people about what colonialism is, he hopes this creates a conversation for a better education system, and end negative stereotypes of First Nations people.

"Get more people to understand and engage with it—hopefully do their own research on these issues. That's the main goal," said Langan. "At the same time grab a board and put some grip tape on it and go and friggin' thrash down the street."

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