Skateboarding saved Joe Buffalo.
The pro skater survived Canada’s cruel Residential School system, as did several generations of his family. But his survival was far from assured, through a traumatic childhood and then decades of substance abuse.
“[Skateboarding has] always been there, when you don’t have anything else left,” Buffalo told the CBC. “That’s what it was for me. Even when I ran out of dope, and I didn’t have a penny in my pocket, I had my skateboard there and that made me really happy.”
Joe Buffalo is Cree from the Samson Cree Nation in Maskwacis, Alberta, but moved to Ottawa in his teens. There he began to skateboard more and helped build a skatepark at his high school. He became a sponsored skater but after a move to Montreal in his twenties, substance abuse began to take its toll.
“I was just not dealing with a lot of my unresolved childhood traumas that all stemmed from going to these institutions,” he told the CBC. “When I try to go apply myself into society and what’s out there for us … I wasn’t f–king built for this, man.”
Today Buffalo has beaten his addictions, and skates for Regina-based Colonialism Skateboards. He’s also launched his own pro-model skateboard. The graphic is of Pîhtokahanapiwiyin (Poundmaker), Joe’s ancestor and 19th-century Cree chief who took part in the 1885 Riel Rebellion against the Canadian government.
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