Walt Pourier: Artist Stronghold for Native Youth
Walt Pourier’s head and his pillow must rarely meet. He is the executive director of the Stronghold Society which, in a nutshell, is a suicide prevention organization, but is better summed up by their description: “Live Life Call to Action Campaigns”; he is the creative director and owner at Nakota Designs; he builds skate parks on native reservations and throws skate competitions and concerts; and he has been recognized by the mayor of Denver and the Lieutenant Governor and Governor of Colorado for his art and work within the community.
How do the arts come into play with the Stronghold Society, skateboarding, and your work with the youth of today?
For me the arts are obviously a good way for me to express myself, but we have to get our youth to understand the power of expressing through the arts. And it’s actually being able to utilize the arts, and any creative expression means, to explain to our youth — and specifically, for me, our native youth — about our history and our stories. That way they can keep these traditions alive and moving for generations to come, because they are so into the social medias these days that we don’t want to lose our traditional values and our stories.
The best way to tell these stories is to show them the creative means of how they think and how they express themselves, which is through skateboarding and music and all these different realms. What we do is we put the stories of some of our elders, of our historical figures like Sitting Bull and Black Elk, and we tell their stories by putting their images on the skateboards. So the idea is that the kids will have a sense of pride when they are skateboarding; that they are skating their culture and skating their history. They also learn the stories about these historical figures because we put an insert in there that tells the history behind the story on the skateboard. So it’s an educational tool as well.
How did your work end up being shown in the Colorado state capital and, ultimately, you winning the Governor’s Creative Leadership Award?
Well it all came about because I first had a three-month artist-in-residency at the Denver Art Museum. It actually was only supposed to be two months but it was so successful they extended me a month. I was literally in there six days a week, showing skate deck art and talking about our stories, right next to native pottery and native bead work.
So the word got out through the community about the stories I was telling in there and, through my connections through the Denver American Indian Commission and the Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs, we started to get recognized by the mayor first. Mayor Hancock actually recognized the work we were doing through the arts but also our ONE Gathering — Skate For Life skateboarding competition that we have at the Downtown Denver Skatepark. He recognized us for our efforts and our work by giving us the Mayor’s Diversity Award which we received about a year ago.
Following that we were asked by Colorado Creative Industries to show a different interpretation of the same story through the skate deck art and also my paintings in the state capitol, so we put up an art show in the lower rotunda area. Then we also had some of the skate deck art in Lieutenant Governor Joseph García’s chambers. I got to speak with the lieutenant governor and he said that the decks were really causing some very interesting conversations in his chambers when he had meetings, so he would tell them what it’s all about. So, shortly after that, we were recognized by the governor with the Creative Leadership Award.
In addition to the skate deck art, what other mediums do you work in?
I do both fine art and commercial art. My wife and I run Nakota Designs, which is an advertising and graphic design company where we do design ads, annual reports, logo design, etc. So that’s the business end. The fine arts side is illustrations, and my favorite medium is acrylics and I paint on canvas. I have a particular subject that I really focus on and it’s ravens. I call it my “Raven’s Cry” series of paintings because there’s a story behind the raven being a messenger between here and the spirit world; he carries our messages back and forth. There’s a lot of prophecy and philosophy in Indian country about the raven and almost every nation has a story about the raven being the trickster and being the one who brought the messages to the spirit world. So my favorite focus is painting ravens, usually on canvases about five feet tall. I also do illustrations with ink, ink drawings, and watercolors and pastels as well.
Since you do illustrations, have you ever thought about going into graphic novels or comic books?
I am actually working on one right now. (This is where I laugh and Walt joins in because I had no clue and just asked the question because I’m geek.) But if you look at some of my skateboards you’re going to see some anime illustrations of natives: these four characters that are a family. The graphic novel is called “The Spirited Ones” and it’s about a family of four natives. The oldest is named Dakota, he has a sister named Feather, and they have two younger siblings called Spur and Sage. What happens is they are here in this world, but they have the ability to sense things that are trying to break through into this realm from the spirit side: . . . the evil entities who are trying to break into this realm. They are all being normal kids until they feel this vibrational change so they run to this drum and start banging on this drum and create this rhythm that transports them into the spirit world so they can fight these evil entities and keep them from crossing over into our world.
What are the details on this massive concert you are going to put on?
It started with our ONE Gathering — Skate for Life. From our first to our fourth we had a stage at the skate comp, and it just kept growing, year after year. In the fourth year I had 30 bands trying to play my eight spots. These were local bands, but also native bands from around the country as well; big-name bands like Nathen Maxwell from Flogging Molly and his band The Bunny Gang, Jonny 5 from the Flobots, Melissa Ivey, and our native rock stars like NDAAZ and Coupstick.
So it just reached a point where we had to break the skate comp and the concerts apart because each event started to demand its own attention. But we also have to keep them both connected because the music industry is who we want to help us build our skate parks on native reservations. So our first skate park was helped out by Jeff Ament, who is the bass player for Pearl Jam, and he got the band and their Vitalogy Foundation nonprofit group to support us and finance us, with the Tony Hawk Foundation and many others who helped us build that first skate park.
So now we’re going to tap into the music industry with that model of how that first one was built. We’ve made some strides towards Metallica, and strides towards Def Leppard, towards Dave Matthews, Red Hot Chili Peppers, so if we are going to break apart the skate competition and the concert, let’s make it a big music festival. So now we are pulling everyone together to pull off the Rockerz 4 REZ Parkz music festival next year in Denver and we will make it an annual event.