Skateboarding is not only a sport, but also a tool to build empowerment and conserve culture, say two founders of a group encouraging Indigenous youth to hop on and ride.
Nations Skate Youth, an Indigenous-led organization teaching skateboarding at Indigenous communities across Western Canada, stopped at Homalco First Nation on July 1 for a workshop. Vancouver Island stops include Langford, Nanaimo, Port Alberni, Campbell River and Alert Bay.
Over these events, the group donates skateboards and shoes to local youth and shows them how to ride. Two of the organization’s four founders, Rose Archie and Joe Buffalo, led Thursday’s event.
Skateboarding has helped both Archie and Buffalo — and many others — face challenges in their lives.
“Growing up, there was a lot of alcohol abuse and suicides from the effects of residential schools and intergenerational trauma,” said Archie. “Skateboarding just let me escape all that — it honestly saved my life.”
“Some of the best skateboarders I’ve ever met were the ones forced to grow up at a young age,” said Buffalo. “Skateboarding is an outlet — and all the positive things that come of it helped me, being a residential school survivor.”
These camps give kids a chance not only to learn about the sport, but also about themselves.
“It teaches them how to focus, how to be confident, and how to try,” said Archie.
Buffalo often sees a transformation of the participants over the course of the event.
“A lot of them are a little apprehensive at first, because they’re so used to being told what to do,” he said. “But there’s no real rules — if they want to ride around on their belly, then we say go for it.”
The shoes, supplied by Vans, also make an impact.
“Some of the kids have holes in their shoes, and say, ‘it’s like Christmas,’ and the mom is crying, because she can’t afford to buy new ones — it’s heartwarming to see,” said Archie.
Besides departing skateboarding knowledge, the instructors also act as positive role models.
“We take the time to listen and hang out with them, and we can relate to a lot of what’s going on in their lives,” said Archie. “We’ve been there — we were born and raised on a reserve.”
“We try to get them before the bad guys do,” said Buffalo. “Show them the good, the life that skateboarding can offer.” he said.
Allen Campbell, clinical counsellor at Homalco, agrees.
“These kids probably have never been on a skateboard, and these guys are showing them how to, kind of as big brothers and uncles,” he said. “It teaches kids how to have fun and try something new.”