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Riding For Change: Amy Denet Deal’s Skateboarding Revolution

Amy Denet Deal (Photo courtesy Amy Denet Deal)

In the vast, wind-swept expanses of the Navajo Nation, where the echoes of tradition reverberate through the canyons, Amy Denet Deal crafts a new narrative of cruising skateboards and flying dreams.

Denet Deal is the visionary founder of 4KINSHIP, a Diné (the term Navajo people use when referencing their community) sustainable fashion brand dedicated to funding social outreach for Indigenous communities.

Amy Denet Deal (Photo courtesy Amy Denet Deal)
Amy Denet Deal (Photo courtesy Amy Denet Deal)

Denet Deal is a designer who catalyzes change.

Through 4KINSHIP and a collaboration with skateboarding legend Tony Hawk, Denet Deal spearheaded and unveiled the first skatepark in the Navajo Nation, igniting a spark of possibility in the hearts of its youth. The park not only provides a space for physical activity but also serves as a hub for mental wellness and community engagement.

DROPPING INTO TRANSFORMATION

In Sept. 2023, Denet Deal hosted the epic, inaugural Modern Matriarchs Skate Jam (MMSJ), an empowering skateboarding showdown for women and girls at the Diné Skate Garden Project, which opened in 2023. The park is in the Two Grey Hills Chapter of the Navajo Nation near the Chuska Mountains, about 200 miles/322km from Albuquerque, N.M., U.S.A.

Hundreds met for the skate session that broke down barriers and built bridges with every kickflip and ollie. The iconic competition united Indigenous girls, women, trans, nonbinary and gender-nonconforming skaters.

Denet Deal is now rallying support to provide over 5,000 Navajo youth with skateboarding kits, alongside launching a mentorship program to nurture the next generation of athletes.

Through promoting power through skate culture transcends desires to help Indigenous youth master the half-pipe, Denet Deal looks to revitalize history.

In a landscape where sports and athletics have deep roots in North American culture, the Olympic stage is still elusive for many Indigenous athletes.

The National Museum of the American Indian reports that the largest contingent of North American Native athletes — six in total — participated in the 1912 Olympic Games. Since then, approximately 43 Olympic athletes identifying as either Native American or Aboriginal Canadian represented their heritage up to 2010.

Young skateboarders in a skateboard park.
Young skateboarders in a skateboard park. (Photo via Envato Elements)

These barriers reflect the limited access, sparse resources and systemic challenges threatening to sideline the dreams of many Indigenous youth.

For Denet Deal, skateboard distribution and mentorship forge steps toward Olympic participation. As she charts a course toward inclusivity and empowerment, her vision is to cultivate a generation of athletes whose stories echo across the ages, whose triumphs will inspire, whose victories will resonate and whose journeys embody the enduring spirit of resilience.

With every skateboard push, the skaters carve lines toward a successful tomorrow.

A BACKSIDE 180 ON HISTORY

Denet Deal’s journey began as a mother, driven by a desire to affect her community. In 2015, she established 4KINSHIP with her daughter. Her mission expanded when she returned to New Mexico and reconnected with her Navajo heritage.

Amy Denet Deal (Photo courtesy Amy Denet Deal)
Amy Denet Deal (Photo courtesy Amy Denet Deal)

Before moving to Sante Fe, Denet Deal lived in the U.S., Germany and Japan. She then made her way to New Mexico, where her birth mother was born.

“I’m actually one of the displaced children from the 1960s that was adopted out to non-native families, so I came home to my tribe in my 50s,” she says. “It was a beautiful childhood, but I didn’t have any connection to my culture.”

“I think that’s a lot of the story you hear from a lot of adoptees,” she adds. “Some have good experiences; some have bad.”

Denet Deal felt a deep longing to reconnect with her culture.

“It was something that was always inside of me. It was always something I yearned for,” she says.

I didn’t have any connection to my culture.

Indigenous representation was exceedingly sparse in the 1960s and 1970s. Returning to her ancestral lands in her 50s awakened a profound sense of belonging. Santa Fe taught Denet Deal about her culture and tribal relations in the area.

“We have one of the largest populations of Indigenous people here in the Southwest with Navajo Nation where I’m from, and then all the pueblos around Santa Fe,” she says.

With her reintegration, Denet Deal felt an ignited passion.

INDIGENOUS SKATEBOARDING KICKFLIPS

Skateboarding is a sport, and it’s also a tool for empowerment and self-expression. Denet Deal believes Indigenous youth can develop confidence, resilience and a sense of belonging by having access to skateboarding. It’s a mental and physical health lifeline for many young athletes.

Skateboarder skateboarding outdoors in the morning
Photo via Envato Elements

Denet Deal’s vision extends beyond the Navajo Nation. She plans to build skateparks in remote areas across Native American reservations, ensuring every child can access recreational facilities. Through grassroots initiatives and community partnerships, she aims to create a support network for Indigenous youth aspiring to pursue their athletic dreams.

Despite facing challenges and cultural barriers, Denet Deal stays steadfast in her commitment to uplifting her community. With each skatepark built and every child empowered, she brings us closer to a future where Indigenous representation in sports is not the exception but the norm.

“I’m actually really good at being a skate aunt,” Denet Deal says. “I’m really good at taking care of solutions for our kids.”

Denet Deal’s impact transcends mere words. Her efforts, fueled by years of experience in leadership roles, have manifested into tangible projects reshaping Indigenous youths’ narrative.

I’m actually really good at being a skate aunt.

The Diné Skate Garden Project is a testament to Denet Deal’s unwavering commitment to empowering Indigenous communities.

She recalls the surreal moment when Hawk himself graced the Navajo Nation’s skatepark.

“The fact that Tony personally came out and opened the park with us is just a testament to me of, you know, they’re all in, they’re a hundred percent in,” Denet Deal says.

OVERCOMING OBSTACLES

Denet Deal’s journey to setting up the first skatepark in Navajo Nation for Indigenous youth was not without its obstacles, though. Beyond the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, she faced delays and setbacks in securing funding for the park. However, her resolve remained.

“You build the park, but you have to create a sustainable platform for these kids,” she says.

Amy Denet Deal (Photo courtesy Amy Denet Deal)
Amy Denet Deal (Photo courtesy Amy Denet Deal)

She emphasizes her current commitment to providing free equipment and access to all Indigenous youth.

“I would never want them not to be able to participate simply because of how they were brought up or where they live,” she says.

For Denet Deal, the skatepark initiative symbolizes hope and equality. Her vision extends beyond sport.

As the founder of the nonprofit 4KINSHIP Indigenous Futures Fund, a collaboration between 4KINSHIP and Marty Hennessey’s Inspiring Children Foundation, Denet Deal aims to amplify young Indigenous talents’ voices and dismantle stereotypes ingrained in mainstream media through creative arts programs and cultural initiatives created to nurture emerging Indigenous artists.

I would never want them not to be able to participate simply because of how they were brought up or where they live.

She also reflects on representation and visibility in the Navajo murder mystery series and psychological thriller television show “Dark Winds,” which first aired in 2022.

“It’s amazing when you come across people who actually look like you,” she says.

In a world still grappling with the legacies of colonization, Denet Deal’s work is a beacon of hope for future generations. She underscores the urgency of advocacy and support for Indigenous communities.

“The next generation just deserves a much easier road to get to where they’re going,” she says.

Skateboarder skateboarding outdoors in the morning
Photo via Envato Elements

LEANING INTO THE FRONTSIDE BOARDSLIDE

With her eyes set on the horizon, Denet Deal envisions a future fruitful with globally flourishing Indigenous creativity.

“We want to amplify that by inviting somebody from New Zealand, inviting somebody from Hawaii,” she says.

Denet Deal reflects on her journey with gratitude and purpose. She highlights the necessity of international collaboration in pursuing cultural revitalization.

“It’s the biggest healing thing that’s happened in my whole life,” she says. “To know who you are and to know where you come from: it’s a powerful thing.”

Her vision shines as bright as a golden glow on the Navajo Nation horizon.

Through one skatepark and one creative initiative at a time, Denet Deal strives to continue bridging the gap between past and present, as well as tradition and innovation. Her journey is an inspiring testament to robust resilience, cultural pride, artistic representation and the transformative potential of sports.

Asian woman skateboarder skateboarding in the wide world
Photo via Envato Elements
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