Flagstaff Woman Nears The End Of 2,000-Mile Roller Skate For Tribal Environmental Justice

Aug 7, 2020

A Flagstaff woman is nearing the end of a 2,000-mile journey across the country … on roller skates. But it’s not just for fun – Daisy Purdy is raising funds to support the work of Navajo Ph.D. Tommy Rock and his all-Indigenous research team who study the devastating environmental and health impacts of abandoned uranium mines on tribal lands. Purdy spoke with KNAU’s Ryan Heinsius about the many what’s propelling her on her two-month journey from the Navajo Nation to the Eastern Band of Cherokee in North Carolina. More info is at rollerrock.org.

Daisy Purdy on her 2,000-mile, cross-country roller skate.
Credit Alejandro Higuera (Pascua Yaqui), Ket t'ui Photography, alejandrohigueraphotography.com

Ryan Heinsius: What exactly inspired you to start out on this adventure?

Daisy Purdy: I was sheltering in place in North Carolina and trying to organize or contribute to some existing mask drives and mutual-aid efforts and so forth in areas of the Southwest that were being particularly hard-hit by the pandemic, more specifically areas in Indian Country and Navajo Nation and different pueblo communities. And as I was sitting there I was feeling as though I wasn’t doing enough. So I strapped on my roller skates for the first time in years and went out roller skating where I could take a lane in the road, you know, and be away from people, and have some fresh air, get some exercise, clear my mind, and I just thought, what if I keep going to the Navajo Nation and try and do a fundraising effort? I was just really inspired by the work that Dr. Rock was doing and trying to think innovatively about ways that I could support it in a time when resources were sparse, ways that I could make folks in the nation more aware – those who weren’t aware – more aware of the issues that disproportionately impact black, Indigenous and communities of color.

RH: What’s the draw of roller-skating for you?

DP: Roller-skating has been an access point of a lot of communities of color. You know, historically you could go and visit a town traveling and if they had a roller rink that was usually a space you could be in. Jam skating and dance skating are different things that communities of color have been engaging in for a long time as a social outlet, as a physical outlet. And so, there’s some solidarity associated with it. It’s a space that’s been reclaimed a lot recently by communities of color, and so it’s symbolic for those reasons. There’s also the element to roller-skating that it’s fun!

RH: Tell me about the reactions that you’re getting or the level of support you might be receiving from the people you’ve met.

DP: Yeah, the level of support is really mixed. Folks are either really receptive, really open, really warm or downright hostile and aggressive. You get some people that will say things like, “Why are you wasting your time?” One person had said that, “If Native people just get a job there wouldn’t be an issue.” There’s definitely some hatred and some animosity there. But with all the hatred and animosity and ignorance and obstacles that I’ve faced in those ways, there’s so much more love, and encouragement and inspiration and hope. I’ve had people on the side of the road ask me what I’m doing and I tell them and they dig deep into their pockets and hand me 79 cents, which is what they have to give at that point in time in really rural, really poor areas of the country. People can see somebody on roller skates and think it’s cool regardless of where they stand on the political spectrum, regardless of what their beliefs are.

RH: Obviously there’s an emotional, a mental challenge here but it’s also a physical challenge for you. What’s been the toughest part of roller-skating 2,000 miles across the country?

DP: What I didn’t anticipate that’s ended up being my biggest challenge is my feet. Roller skates, I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but they’re not made for doing ultra marathons. The first, I would say two to three weeks, my feet were swollen too big to fit into my roller skates. I actually had to get a pair of roller skates from the Albuquerque Roller Derby League that were a size too big for me because my feet were swelling and going numb in my roller skates that fit me. It’s still a daily struggle. Here I am, 1,800, 1,900 miles in and I’m still padding and taping my feet daily, wearing multiple pairs of socks, wearing compression socks to keep the swelling down. But, if it wasn’t a challenge I wouldn’t be doing it and people wouldn’t be paying attention, right?