Brandon Ecoffey: Tragedy doesn't define our lives at Pine Ridge

The following is the opinion of Brandon Ecoffey, Lakota Country Times Editor. For more news and opinion, subscribe to the Lakota Country Times today. All content © Lakota Country Times.

Brandon Ecoffey

A Note from the editor’s desk
By Brandon Ecoffey
LCT Editor

One of the strangest parts of being from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation is that although we are all aware of the horrible things that happen here, the majority of us who were born and raised here do not allow these tragedies to define us.

Throughout the year all of us experience some kind of loss that is associated with the conditions that exist on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. The poverty that is here could be better addressed but the fact of the matter remains that reservations were not designed to flourish. Although we face circumstances in our community that mainstream Americans couldn’t begin to comprehend, our people—have grown more resilient than ever.

An example of this resilient nature is the Toby Eagle Bull Classic skate competition. The Toby Eagle Bull Classic is one of the many events that take place on the reservation each year that have taken a tragic event and used it to better the community.

Toby Eagle Bull passed away in 2001 in a drunk driving accident. Toby was a pure athlete who after high school chose to gravitate towards the sport of skateboarding and like all other things he attempted, he quickly established himself as one of the best. Toby was also my best friend and brother.

Youth participate in the Toby Eagle Bull Classic on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Photo by Brandon Ecoffey

By the time Toby left us I was only 18 years of age but like most of us from Pine Ridge we had all experienced tragedy already in life. The days and months surrounding his passing were some of the hardest of my life but before I knew it, his immediate family had a skate competition planned and we were all coming together to celebrate his life by bringing the sport he loved to the people. It wasn’t that we weren’t sad, because we were. It was that after all these years of having incidents like this happen all around us we all wanted something good to come from his life.

Ten years after his death a skate park was constructed as a result of the hard work of Toby’s family and people like Walt Pourier and James Murphy and countless others. Today when you come and see the competition in person at the Wounded Knee Directions Toby Eagle Bull Memorial Skate park you see children laughing, a community working together to protect the beauty of the event, and you see a community and family who refused to allow tragedy to define them celebrating the love they had for their relation.

I have never looked at our community as a society of victims. Each of us understands the historical circumstances that have led to the state of our Lakota nation and each of us have made the bed we lay in but we still walk forward each and everyday for our families and for our community. Events like the skate competition help us all continue to do so.

Brandon Ecoffey is the editor of Lakota Country Times and an award winning journalist who was born and raised on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. He can be reached at

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