photos: Top: Rose Archie of Nations Skate Youth helps Jennica Pierr, 7, Levi Ratclif, 5, and Angelina Learmonth, 8, try skateboarding for the first time. Jill Schweber photo.

Hope on Wheels

The non-profit Nations Skate Youth fosters bonding through skateboarding in Indigenous communities throughout B.C., Alberta and the Yukon

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One panel discussion in a room of 200 people a few years ago has resulted in hundreds of donated skateboard decks, visits to more than two dozen First Nations communities, positive change in the lives of hundreds of Indigenous youth and a mission being fulfilled for Rose Archie with the creation of Nations Skate Youth. 

It all started in 2019, when Archie curated a panel at the Vancouver Skateboard Coalition’s All Aboard Festival on Granville Island. The topic was the impact of skateboarding on education, mental health and social awareness. Archie shared her story about her own youth, her passion for skateboarding and how she dealt with the loss of her sister, who died by suicide.

Having been born and raised on a reserve in the B.C. Interior, Archie spent her teen years hitch-hiking for hours to the nearest skatepark in order to skateboard. Through this experience she made a connection with the skateboard community that would last the rest of her life.

After the panel discussion, many people reached out to Archie personally to thank her and tell her they were going to see a therapist or talk to a counsellor. She then made it a mission to normalize talking about mental health issues—particularly in the skateboarding community.

“I wanted to go back to the traditional healing ways,” says Archie (pictured at right), who hails from Tsq’escemcl (Canim Lake, B.C.). “I didn't even know what that was or what it looked like until my friend got me back into the sweat lodge and I was talking to more Elders that I didn’t talk to before, asking them for guidance.”

She says she realized she needed to work on her own mental health, but didn’t know how to do that. The more she talked to other skateboarders, the more she realized she wasn’t the only one suffering and looking for help.

“Even I learned about what intergenerational trauma was—words that [for me] have never been said, never been used—and being on my own healing journey, I was able to share with people in an open, respectful manner about what helped me.”

The momentum—and the conversation—was growing. That’s when Archie sat down in her living room with fellow skateboarders Joe Buffalo, Dustin Henry, Tristan Henry and Adam George and developed the idea of Nations Skate Youth—a non-profit society that empowers Indigenous youth through the positive impacts of skateboarding. 

Launching in early 2020, the group members aimed to share their stories with First Nations youth in a meaningful way.

“The disconnection is there where you don’t have a connection with your culture, your language or your traditions,” Archie says. “But you’re never too old to start learning.”

Nations Skate Youth members began to plan trips to Indigenous communities around B.C. and Alberta, where they would give talks, tell their stories and centre the events around skateboarding.

“It’s something as little as skateboarding that we’re bringing to a community, but it’s much more than that when we leave,” says Archie.

The group started with a GoFundMe fundraising goal of $10,000 to cover travel costs and other expenses, and within 12 hours, it was reached. Within the first year, Nations Skate Youth was able to crowdfund an additional $92,000, which helped the team get to 25 communities.

Archie, who is president of Nations Skate Youth, says the support has been overwhelming and rewarding. By engaging with youth and inspiring them, she says she sees an instant impact.

The Nations Skate Youth team—currently made up of Archie, Buffalo, and Dustin and Tristan Henry—roll directly into Indigenous communities (where youth feel comfortable and at home), bringing skateboards, clothing and shoe donations, and even their own ramps if need be.

(Pictured from left:) Dustin and Tristan are Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in First Nation. Dustin is a professional skateboarder and Tristan has been skateboarding for 15 years. Buffalo is from Maskwacis, Alberta and is a member of the Samson Cree Nation. Skateboarding helped Buffalo overcome the trauma of residential school and he shares his experiences to inspire a new generation of First Nations skateboarders.

Starting off in a circle, Archie will often burn sage, then make introductions. It’s at that point they have the full attention of the youth.

“The communities that we go to, we can really see the statistics of drug and alcohol abuse, struggles with mental health and suicide rates, and how it affects the next generation. A lot of the kids that we see in the communities are still in the foster care system, so when we’re talking with them, they can get easily triggered by what we say, so we have been learning a lot with that part of it,” Archie says. “It’s can be as simple as something like, ‘Oh, did your dad teach you how to skateboard?’ and [the youth] break down and cry because they don't have a dad raising them. We learned that really early on.”

The community’s youth coordinators are usually present during the skateboarding events for support so the team can reach the kids in a sensitive and effective way.

Dustin and Tristan Henry share their personal stories of feeling disconnected and how they used to be ashamed to tell people their father was Indigenous.

Archie says Buffalo’s story also leaves a big impression on the youth, demonstrating through his own life choices to never give up.

“He went to residential school and he fought with drugs and alcohol. Him sobering up and being on the [recovery] path—I think that’s why I was so inspired to have him because he’s now 45 years old. I know the old Joe, I know how far he came to get to where he’s at.” 

In 2021, in addition to the sharing circles, Archie introduced another element to the team members’ visits: they give the youth their own skateboard to assemble on site. From picking out their deck, to applying the grip tape, the action builds connection.

 “We’re teaching them something new, because a lot of the time, they haven’t had that opportunity,” she says, adding that skateboarding is an expensive pastime, with most new brand-name models costing $200.

The team provides skateboard lessons, helping the youth learn to stand up and get comfortable on the boards. It’s also a great social opportunity for kids who have been so isolated due to COVID-19 for the better part of the last two years.

“At the end we do a circle talk again and ask how everyone’s doing, and what they loved about the day. It’s awesome. We see the impact right away when they’re like, ‘Oh my God, it was so fun, I learned something new, I was really scared and now I’m not so scared.’ The good thing about skateboarding is that no one’s telling you what to do. There’s no right there’s no wrong, there’s no one judging you, and I think that is where a lot of the kids like that.”

Last summer alone, Nations Skate Youth gave out 300 skateboards, and the organization forged a partnership with a popular international skatewear brand VANS. Archie says the support has been incredibly valuable as sometimes when they arrive in a community, the youth turn up in moccasins, gumboots or with holes in their shoes.

Nations Skate Youth also partners with Squamish Training and Trades Centre in North Vancouver, which constructed ramps to take to Kamloops, B.C. for a visit. The team travelled there immediately after the Lytton, B.C. wildfire that destroyed the entire town. Team members met with youth and families who were camping at the powwow grounds. They were able to skateboard with youth from Lytton and other communities affected by the fires who had lost everything.

“I get emotional because to go there and see their smiles… I couldn't imagine losing everything… and then seeing how a piece of wood with four wheels makes a big difference,” Archie says.

She was also able to collect more clothing donations when she told friends about their trip to Lytton, and VANS provided several boxes of clothing and shoes.

“One of the ladies from Lytton said thank you because often the youth are forgotten. People take care of the babies, people take care of the Elders. But the youth, they get forgotten.”

She and the team also took the time to talk about mental health and the importance of their culture.

“I wish I had someone like that when I was a teen to remind me that when I get out there in the real world and leave the reserve, to not be ashamed of who I am and to not be ashamed of the colour of my skin. To honour that my parents and my grandparents taught me the language. They taught me the culture and the history. If the younger kids don’t get that and don’t hear that as a reminder, then what we’re all working for can be lost. That’s a huge reminder when we go out.”

After numerous events and trips around B.C., Alberta and the Yukon, Archie says the results of their visits are hugely rewarding. 

“Youth counsellors say, ‘We’ve never seen them smile like that before. We’ve never seen their confidence go up in a matter of a day or a couple of hours even.’ That really means a lot, because a lot of us have got on that healing path of what it takes to do this work.”

For now, Nations Skate Youth is a passion project for Archie, who has a different full-time job and usually takes vacation time to go on community trips. As a non-profit society, Nations Skate Youth is grateful for donations as every bit helps with travel expenses and supplies. The money is passed on to the youth through programming and equipment. The organization also accepts donations of skateboards. Your used deck that you’ve upgraded from might be the perfect starter board for a youth.

“We want to build future leaders. We want to build the youth up so they can start organizing their own skateboard meet-ups. Another big part of what I want to do is work for more skateboard parks and stuff like that in communities that we work closely with, because they do see the impact right away,” Archie says.

“People who watch our videos or who follow our journey, they know. They see the work that we’re doing and it brings them joy. It shares the importance that we need to hold their Indigenous youth high and we need to respect and honour them. That’s my big ‘why’ and why I wanted to start something like this.” 

Below: Faith Turner, 16, learns how to put trucks on a skateboard with Archie in the (Sema:th) Sumas First Nation. Jill Schweber photo.

Follow Nations Skate Youth on Instagram @nationskateyouth to see photos of the team out in the field and videos of the workshops. 

— Rebecca Bollwitt blogs at and is a regular contributor to Megaphone.

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  • Rebecca Bollwitt
    published this page in Magazine articles 2022-01-24 10:35:53 -0800
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