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Skate Jam promotes healthy message.

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By Cliff Matias -- Today correspondent

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - Hundreds of Native youth gathered for the second annual All Nations Skate Jam in Albuquerque, a daylong event celebrating one of the hottest new trends on reservations and Native communities from California to New York.

Skateboarding has not become just a sport for American Indian youth looking to channel their energy, but a canvas for Native artists to create breathtaking works on the backs of boards.

''The event is all about giving Native youth a healthy, safe and positive activity,'' said Todd Harder, a Michigan native who founded and organizes the All Nations Skate Jam. The event attracted Native skateboard companies such as Native Skates, Wounded Knee, 4-Wheel Warpony and Full Blood Skates, who were on hand selling their latest lines of boards and gear.

The competition began at 10 a.m. with the youngest skaters (ages 6 - 10), and moved up to the 18 and above age groups. Winners were awarded prizes for the cleanest and most difficult moves. Although the event was listed as a Native event, it was open to the general public with special awards presented to the best Native skater in each division.

Orlando Begay, 17, Navajo from Kata, Ariz., said it was cool to see all these Natives skating and supporting each other. He wished there were more events where Natives from across the country could come together and skate.

The event was, for the most part, attended by skateboard enthusiasts; however, many of the visitors from the Gathering of Nations Powwow stopped by to lend support to the skaters and enjoy the other activities that took place throughout the day.

The skate jam featured an Aztec dance group, special performances by Native musical acts, and a fashion show.

Choreographer, dancer and Santa Fe resident Rulan was impressed with the number of Native youth who attended the jam.

''It is an expression of youth today. [It's] much better than sitting in front of the television set, a computer or playing video games,'' she said. ''This event is about a vital physical expression, and it allows Native and non-Native youth to simultaneously enjoy the First Nations culture being presented.''

When asked about those in the Native community who feel that skateboarding is not traditional to First Nations, she responded, ''Native youth are going to be taking things that are important to them from modern culture and 'Indian-izing' them, which is my word for putting their own distinctive cultural mark on something.

''This will become the expansion of Native culture of the future, as it has in the past, such as with beadwork, which incorporated European beads into an artistic expression that is recognizably Native.''

Traditional or not, skateboarding has become the new launching pad for Native artists and designers. And who knows, the next Tony Hawk just may be a resident of First Nations America.