A 43 year old man with roots in the Poundmaker Cree Nation in Saskatchewan has gone pro with Colonialism Skateboards.
Joe Buffalo started skateboarding as a kid on his reserve in Maskwacis, Alberta.
Buffalo says his fun pastime became an important tool while going to residential school.
“I went to residential school for 5 years and in that time it taught me a lot, and I grew up fast you know and how to think on your own at a very young age so having my skateboard there with me while I was at these institutions pretty much was keeping me sane,” he says.
Once out of residential school, Buffalo eventually moved to Ottawa where his skateboarding style took on a new life and helped grab the attention of teams and sponsors.
“It was just so different that like I was blown away by it you know what I mean, I was like I love this skateboard thing, I’m going to continue,” says Buffalo.
But old demons eventually started to take him down.
“I was taking it serious, but at the same time I was like also battling a lot of like unhealed childhood traumas that I was taking it out with substance abuse and alcohol,” says Buffalo.
“All my friends were turning Pro around me and I had this stigma built up where I just thought in my eyes I wasn’t professional enough and when you are just told that you are no good all your life, eventually it was just like ‘I don’t think I deserve it’.”
With his skateboard still in hand, Buffalo moved out to Vancouver in 2010 where his struggle with addiction got the best of him.
“I totally rock bottomed, I was living in Vancouver in the DTES and was just ready to roll over and die pretty much you know,” says Buffalo.
After losing some of his friends to drugs and overdosing 3 times himself, Buffalo finally got straight.
“I took to culture basically,” says Buffalo. “I went and sweated with this old man from North Vancouver.
“I hadn’t done it in so long and hand’t been at one spiritually so that definitely gave me that extra push.”
December 11 marked Buffalo’s two year sobriety mark and he says he’s stronger than ever.
“It’s just been one accolade after another,” says Buffalo.
“I just didn’t want to be a statistic anymore. I didn’t want to be remembered ‘Oh yeah that guy was cool, but it’s too bad he went out this way’. I want to be remembered as the one that went out swinging and just like tried his hardest.”
Buffalo recently became Pro after teaming up with Colonialism Skateboards.
A company ran by an Indigenous artist from Treaty 4 Territory in Saskatchewan committed to teaching Canada’s dark history of colonialism through skateboard art.
“Basically what Michael Langan is doing is he’s educating the masses with this platform that he has,” says Buffalo.
“It’s pretty much just explaining to everybody what really happened in Canada. It’s a wicked movement, I’m stoked to be apart of it. I liked lived the stories that he tells of.”
Buffalo knew right away what design he wanted for his Pro model skateboard – legendary Chief Poundmaker.
Poundmaker was a Plains Cree Chief in the 1800’s who was known as a peacekeeper and defender of his people.
“Chief Poundmaker, wow he was like how we would look at modern day Mahatma Gandhi was how they looked at, back in the days, at Chief Poundmaker,” says Buffalo.
“He was like the most holiest of holy.”
Buffalo is a proud relative of Chief Poundmaker.
His mother, Marilyn Buffalo, an Indigenous political leader and educator told him the exciting news when he was a young boy.
“I’ve actually wanted this board graphic since I was like 8 years old, since I first found out I was related, like bloodline to Poundmaker,” says Buffalo.
“Finding out I was related to him was amazing, I couldn’t believe it so when I found out you could put your own graphic on a board, I was like this is what I want.”
The newly released skateboard can be found on Colonialism Skateboard’s website.
Buffalo’s story is inspiring a new generation of Indigenous skateboarders and he says he doesn’t plan on stopping anytime soon.
“I feel really proud to be able to share my story and show my board and tell the story,” says Buffalo.
“There’s a lot I want to do and I’m just getting started. For what I have already accomplished in this little time, 2 years sober, imagine the next 10 years, 20 years.”
Buffalo says he’s been sober exactly two years this month and says focusing on his love for skateboarding helped save his live.
“Having the cards I was dealt and being able to channel that and use it as fuel to apply myself in a positive way, I consider it a new lease on life you know,” says Buffalo.