I know, we love our Rez Ball, but there are other sports that Natives are participating in and kicking some serious butt. Did you know we have a world-class rock climber and snowboarder in our midst? Check out this heart-stopping video Go Pro made with him!
I was able to catch Lonnie in a rare moment of down time and ask him a few questions so we could all get to know him better.
Full name: Lonnie Kosuko Kauk (Cow-k is how you pronounce my last name)
Born: Born and raised in Yosemite valley California, a direct descendent of Chief Tenaya of the Ahwahneechee Tribe.
Curently Living: June Lake, CA
I am new to the climbing world as I am sure most of our readers are. Your father, Ron Kauk, is a famous climber and spent many summers in Yosemite climbing. Is that how he met your mother?
My father left everything and moved to Yosemite to climb. He was one of the best climbers of his time. This is how he met my mom, from climbing in Yosemite. My mom was born and raised in Yosemite. Most of my family were born in Yosemite as well.
You're a direct descendant of Chief Tenaya of the Ahwahneechee tribe in Yosemite. I would think that has to be an amazing feeling, that you're walking in the same place your ancestors were. Do you feel that energy when you're up there climbing?
Yes, I'm so honored to be a descendant from one of Yosemite's great chiefs. I for sure feel the spirit guiding me through. Many times I stand on top of mountains thinking of my people living in this amazing place. I know the same blood runs through my heart, so when I climb these mountains I gave all my thanks. I represent all the good from my ancestors.
How do you think your ancestry plays into your chosen profession(s)?
Every time I make my dreams come true, all native people do it with me because I represent them through the things I love to do.
I was digging around on the Internet about how some climbers really want to hit up rock climbing sites that are sacred places for local tribes, such as Devils Tower. Most climbers are respectful, but some climbers don't understand that at some points in the year the tribes need their space for ceremonies. What would you say to them?
Yes, I have seen a short film about Devils Tower. It's really sad to see people not respecting things that have been here for a long time. It's sad they don't look in their heart and understand what our people stand for. I say if they don't respect our peoples ways, just close it down to climbing, because I don't even think the mountain likes to see people climbing it's walls with Hate in their heart for our peoples way of life. While we come from the good and been through so much in history and we are still here dealing with this? No way they must respect us.
I understand how you got into climbing since that runs in your blood. So how did you get into snowboarding? It seems like there are a lot of Natives involved with that sport too, although we don't always talk about it. Skateboarding culture seems to be pretty big on the reservations.
Yes I was born to rock climb but I found snowboarding on my own. I got into snowboarding from watching snowboarding movies, which is really cool because I ended up filming with the same guys that made those videos that inspired me to become a pro snowboarder. I'm so honored to be representing for all native people through what I love to do.
Which are you more focused on right now, snowboarding or rock climbing? Or do you just go where the season takes you?
I love both the same and that love is always growing inside me. It feels so great to express myself through either one. I just blend with the season of life and send it hard, really getting to know yourself really well. Once we know what's in our heart we are unstoppable!
Any other sports or activities you're interested in? What do you like to do during “down” time?
I love climbing until I'm so tired I have to rest. I go on hikes up in the mountains, visualize my goals when I'm up there. The mountain gives me a lot of good energy to make my dreams come true. I really get to see clear up there on top of the mountain so it's perfect for a rest day.
I was raised by my grandparents too. Do you want to talk a bit more about how they taught you traditional values? How important is that connection with your elders?
My grandparents raised us to respect and honor where we come from and do good things. When I was a kid my grandma would tell us stories about our people, how they lived, while she weaved her baskets. She learned basket weaving from my great great grandma Lucy Telles of Yosemite. She weaved one of the biggest baskets ever. It took 4 years to make. It really amazes me where I come from!!! It's why I do what I do…all respect & honor in my heart.
Been to any good Pow Wows lately? If so, what are your favorite ones?
I haven't been to any in a while because I've been out living this dream of mine, so I can come back to all my people and share with them: “We can be anything we put our heart in” and “Never forget where we come from”.
Anything inspirational to say to the Native youth out there reading this and their passion lies within an “extreme” sport like this. I am sure they might be getting some push back on it.
Be proud of where you come from. Look in your heart see what's in it. Respect your life, push yourself in a good clean way. Remember when people look at you they see your family and they see where you from, so do good things. Don't lose faith because there are people like me fighting for our freedom, showing all people who we really are!
Thanks again to Lonnie Kauk for sharing his story and inspirational words with us. And I'll leave you with one last video to get your heart-pumping!
Follow Lonnie Kauk on Instagram for more beautiful scenic views!