"It's an odd mix—Apaches and skateboards—but to me it was the perfect mix," the 53-year-old artist behind APACHE Skateboards says. "When I looked at skateboarding, whether I was a participant or an observer with my son, it was very tribal. Skateboarding is for skateboarders, run by skateboarders because it's skateboarding, and it has its own social mores and its own code of ethics to a certain extent. To me, as a tribal person, creating a skate brand to me was just a natural progression of things to me."
That wasn't always the plan for Miles, a native of the San Carlos Apache Nation reservation who's spent his life creating artwork that depicts the history of his culture. He liked skateboarding when he was a kid and fondly remembers collecting skate magazines, but it was never a calling for him until he watched his own son—Douglas Miles Jr.—fall in love with the sport in 2001.
Miles couldn't afford a new skate deck for his son when it came time to purchase his own board, so the artist bought a blank deck and designed it himself. The deck design, which featured an Apache warrior with a spear and a shield, led Miles to begin designing more decks and eventually start APACHE Skateboards, once other kids in their reservation saw Douglas Jr.'s board.
"I knew all the kids would want something that represented us—our tribe and our culture," Miles says. "I knew what I was doing was definitely unique and very real."
Now, the DIY skate organization continues to designs boards, but also sponsors a skate team, helps plans skate parks, and has its hand in documentary film and music projects. And 15 years later, Miles believes projects like APACHE Skateboards that celebrate their cultural history are more important than ever.
"I find it even more important (to make Apache art) in this current political era. It's always been important, it will always be important, but now in this political era where diversity is kind of looked down upon or the current political establishment is threatening to shut down art programming and art funding."
Over the past 15 years, Miles has collaborated with a number of artists on the APACHE Skateboards project. The artist estimates around 20-to-30 others have helped with the organization, whether it's designing skate decks or helping with other projects like an upcoming documentary film that tells the story of APACHE Skateboards and focuses on the tribal connection to skating—the same connection Miles uses to educate young people about the history of the Apache culture, like he did with his own son.
"That might have been what it was all about in the beginning: to take a message and almost hide it in skateboarding and yet use skateboarding as a way to launch that message, but still let it be about skateboarding," says Miles, explaining the natural connection between Apache culture and skating culture. "I wasn't trying to be cool. I wasn't trying to cash in on a skateboarding trend. It just kind of happened."