Halfpipes in the Shu-Box: Skateboarding as resistance

By Brenna Engel Posted: March 29, 2019 2:00 p.m.

Micheal Langan presents the skateboards designed by students at Scott Collegiate.
Micheal Langan presents the skateboards designed by students at Scott Collegiate. Photo: U of R External Relations

Art, skateboards, and reconciliation are the seemingly incongruous elements Micheal Langan, second-year Education student with SUNTEP (Saskatchewan Urban Native Teacher Education Program), combines to get out a message to local high schoolers about Canada’s colonial past and lingering negative influence.

Using images of residential school classrooms, Langan started designing unique graphics to apply to a series of skateboards. “It’s a tough history to take in, but it’s an important part of our history that we have to talk about,” said Langan.

This semester Langan was the University of Regina’s Michele Sereda Artist in Residence, hosted annually by the Faculty of Media, Art, and Performance (MAP), and this year a second partnering faculty, Kinesiology. Kathleen Irwin, associate dean of MAP, says the call for this particular residency was unique because it had to combine movement with art.

The residency began with Langan helping students at Scott Collegiate in North Central Regina to create their own skateboard graphics. Teacher Jori Cachene says that her students instantly connected to the project, saying that it was something cool to do at school.

Langan met with the students every Friday, bringing archival images of residential school survivors and sharing his own family’s history. Cachene said that the sessions sparked conversation and had her students reflecting on their own experiences.

A connection with Seth Westhead, a public health researcher from the Awabakal and Wiradjuri people of New South Wales, got Langan thinking about the colonial histories of Australia and Canada. The two met about a year ago and have been talking closely ever since.

“I started to realize how similar the histories and the current life for Aboriginal peoples between the two countries was and I was shocked. I thought Canada had it all figured out,” said Westhead. Westhead and Langan will work together to create graphics for new boards that will depict the history connecting their ancestors and communities.

On a whim, Langan reached out via Facebook to renowned Cree artist Kent Monkman whose paintings focus on colonization in Canada and challenge social norms. Langan, an admirer of Monkman’s work, asked the artist if he would be interested in putting some of his pieces on Langan’s skateboards. Much to Langan’s surprise, Monkman agreed to the collaboration.

On Wednesday, March 27, members of the public and media crowded into U of R’s Shu-Box Theatre for the moving culmination of Langan’s residency. Langan moderated Riding is Resistance, a rich blend of art, movement, and truth featuring Langan’s lineup of collaborative skateboards in action as athletes showed off their moves on a specially constructed halfpipe. Westhead and Monkman joined Langan via video chat.

Five of Monkman’s works were screened onto a number of boards, including The Scream which depicts RCMP officers removing Indigenous children from their families. During the presentation, Monkman said that the collaboration was a way for his work to get out of the gallery and onto the streets. “People of my generation are carrying the weight of what the state of the world will be when we pass it on to our youth and I’m glad I can be a part of this,” said Monkman. The event ended with boarders back on the halfpipe continuing their ride. One of those skateboarders was Vincent Heese.

Growing up Heese says he didn’t see many other Indigenous skateboarders until the day he met up with Langan. Sporting one of Langan’s skateboards, Heese said it prompted him to learn more about his culture. “After I got this Inconvenient Indian board, I actually read the book the board was named for,” said Heese. The skateboard features an image of the cover of the groundbreaking book by Thomas King that reflects on what it means to be an “Indian” in North America.

Rounding off the night and his residency, Langan hopes everyone involved with the project, including the audience, gained a deeper understanding of the history of Indigenous peoples and everyone’s role in reconciliation – ensuring that we ride into a future of meaningful exchange based on truth, deep understanding, and equality.