On a Mission: California skateboarder runs for mayor on SD reservation


MISSION, S.D. (KELO) — Filmmaker, skateboarder and activist, Clay Shank, may be best known for documenting his journey skating 700 miles from San Francisco to Mexico. His mission was to learn how to make the world a better place.

Clay Shank’s documentary, 700 Miles, on YouTube

Now Shank is literally in “Mission,” a South Dakota town on the Rosebud Sioux Reservation, to make the world a better place for kids there.

Most days, you’ll find kids practicing tricks at the new skateboard park in Antelope, just outside of Mission.

“I’m trying to land a “tail flip” and a “ghetto bird.” That’s what I’m trying to learn,” 13-year-old Jayce Able said.

Angela Kennecke: If you didn’t have this skateboard park, what would you be doing?
Devan White Feather: I really have no idea; probably playing inside, playing video games.

This skateboard park and another one in Parmelee, built in the basement of an old house, are the brainchild of skateboarder Clay Shank.

Shank: I’m from San Francisco, California—where I was born

Kennecke: So how does a California guy end up on the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota?
Shank: Well the skateboard will definitely show you around the world.

Shank’s travels brought him to South Dakota a few years ago with a big idea.

Skateboarding is a beautiful thing and having the opportunity to encourage it or share it in places where it’s not as widely available as where I’m from—it brings me great joy.

Clay Shank, Skateboarder and Mission Mayoral Candidate

Shank solicits donations to build the parks and buy skateboards for the kids. But he doesn’t just hand them out.

“We had a mixer and the kids would mix the concrete and I would trowel it,” Shank said.

The kids must work 12 hours on the parks to earn their own skateboards.

“The greatest part was after those 12 hours, once they own their board, then kids started earning $5 an hour. Out here building these ramps, some of these kids had their first jobs right here building their own skate park,” Shank said.

Clay Shank is building skateboard parks on the Rosebud Reservation

Shank is fostering relationships with these kids through both hard work and fun.

“He taught me how to try to do a tail flip, that’s why I started learning, because he was showing the basics about it,” Able said.

“These are my best friends here on the reservation,” Shank said.

“What Clay does is he works with the kids and that’s a big difference. It makes everything else possible because the kids are buying into it right away,” Rosebud Sioux Tribal President, Rodney Bordeaux, said.

Despite the fact that he’s an outsider, Shank has found acceptance on Rosebud.

“If you can make change—good positive change, we welcome that,” Bordeaux said.

Shank says he plans to build at least two more skateparks on the reservation: one in Rosebud and the other in the old swimming pool in Mission.

Shank has other goals besides building skate parks on the reservation. He’s entering the world of politics here.

“The step to enter the race for Mayor, the people in Mission, I think they appreciate the kind of energy and motivation that they’ve seen here and they see the kids being involved and taking responsibility,” Shank said.

Shank has a vision of Mission that not everyone can see through the haze of poverty that envelops this town.

“We imagine that Mission could be one of the funnest cities in all of America in the next couple of years, if we just say ‘yes’ to people and encourage and empower their ideas as best we can,” Shank said.

Shank wants to cultivate public spaces, just like he’s done with the skateparks.

Kennecke: What about the fact that you’re not a tribal member. Does that hurt you or help you? Are you accepted here?
Shank: Well, we’ll sure find out. But Mission itself is an incorporated town of South Dakota. Although I haven’t been here for a very long time, I think people recognized I have motivation to work hard. This and Parmelee are pretty good examples of that.

Whether he wins the upcoming election or not, Shank says he will continue his mission to give Native American kids the wings they need to fly on the wheels of a skateboard.

“The momentum that we have—we have the potential to do big things,” Shank said.

The election for mayor of Mission will be held on Tuesday, April 13. The three candidates include Shank, Vernon Dewayne Cox and Harvey “Jack” Herman, who is the incumbent.

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