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Surviving the Horror of Residential Schools by Skateboarding

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Surviving the Horror of Residential Schools by Skateboarding

[camera rolling] [bright chime]

[train rattling]

Early Newspaper

[Joe] For me, skateboarding was definitely like a savior,

given the circumstances of me growing up,

having to deal with the cards I was dealt.

[somber music]

I’m from Maskwacis, Alberta, Samson Cree Nation.

My mom’s side dates back all the way to Chief Poundmaker.

He was a man of peace.

Like, how we would look at Mahatma Gandhi

was how they looked at Chief Poundmaker,

with the utmost respect, holiest of the holies, you know?

Knowing all this as a kid and growing up,

it immediately just made me proud.

[rhythmic drum music]

I remember seeing my cousin, Mario.

He ollied another board on its side,

and I was just blown away.

Seeing these guys just launching off ramps

and flying everywhere,

I was like, I’m going to get this ollie one day, you know?

I just wanted to be accepted by the older guys.

[emotional music]

As I eventually became better at it,

it was all I wanted to do.

Skateboarding was my outlet.

[emotional indigenous chanting]

My dream was to become a professional skateboarder.

I’m gonna represent and show them that a young native kid

fresh off the rez is going to make it happen.

[dramatic electronic music]

But my childhood wasn’t the greatest.

When I was 11 years old,

I was taken off reserve and forced into residential school.

They were boarding schools set up by the government

and run by the church to destroy my people.

Kill the Indian and save the child.

My dad got it pretty bad.

Like, he was sexually molested,

but my grandmother went, and my mom went.

And all my sisters and brothers went.

I had no idea what took place at these institutions.

[suspenseful music]

I wasn’t able to communicate with my parents.

I got to see them like once or twice a year.

[suspenseful music]

There were 250 kids in a room with bunk beds,

so you could hear kids crying.

You could hear a lot of things at night.

[suspenseful music]

I could hear spirits in the walls

from the dark history there.

[suspenseful music]

Who are you supposed to run to

when you say, Mom, Dad, you know?

Who’s going to come and protect me from these people?

It definitely fucked me up.

But the severity of what I’ve gone through is nothing

compared to what my parents or my grandparents

have gone through.

[suspenseful music]

As soon as I was of age,

I pulled myself out of there and moved to Ottawa,

and that’s when things started happening.

I started getting recognized and making friends fast.

I got sponsored quickly,

but people didn’t know that I went to residential school.

I just showed up, and they were like, whoa,

this guy’s kind of rough.

This guy doesn’t take no shit

and better watch yourself around him, you know?

He’s a fuckin’ wild card.

And I was.

What the are you staring at, you know?

That was me.

I was that kid.

I was coming from a place where people

tell you that you’re no good.

You ain’t going to amount to shit.

But now people were like,

whoa, do that trick again.

Whoa, this guy’s good.

Give him free stuff.

I was like, what?

Free stuff?

I like this.

I’m going to keep skating more.

[rhythmic hiphop music]

People that I grew up looking up to

and idolizing in these magazines

were now calling me to go skate.

[metal whining]

I didn’t even know that skateboarding

can evolve into this family worldwide.

Oh, they were just so welcoming.

And I knew that I had the potential of going pro eventually,

but when the opportunity arose,

I didn’t think I deserved it.

I just never thought I was professional enough.

[somber instrumental music]

Back then, I hadn’t dealt with my childhood trauma.

For decades, I used drugs and alcohol as a mask,

but deep down inside, I was fucking miserable, man.

You can only keep it into a jar for so long

until that jar is going to explode.

[somber instrumental music]

I made some mistakes over the years

that eventually caught up with me.

Jail damaged my spirit,

and I felt like a caged animal.

[somber instrumental music]

Coming out, I was even worse.

I was living wherever I could, writing suicide letters.

I overdosed three times in one summer,

and, oh, it was just hell.

[somber instrumental music]

That’s when I knew that I don’t want to do this anymore.

Seeing my dad lose his family

on account of alcohol and drugs and the violence,

he didn’t know better.

All my family members are still suffering

from residential school trauma.

It’s a continuous cycle.

[somber instrumental music]

I realized I wanted freedom

and I don’t want this intergenerational shit

to be an excuse.

So, I had to assess all the issues

that had been troubling me since I was a child.

All my wounds, all my battles,

and all the suffering, you know?

[emotional electronic music]

The first day I was sober was the solstice.

I went to a sweat lodge in [indistinct] Reserve

and just prayed to take this next path.

[somber music]

Sobering up made me stronger

and I felt like a completely changed person.

I took all that energy

that I would put into partying and survival

and just put it back into my skateboard, and…

[hopeful music]

After skateboarding for over 35 years,

finally, my time had come.

I turned professional

and I made my first pro model

as a tribute to my grandfather, Chief Poundmaker.

[indigenous people singing and drumming]

[man’s voice drowned out by music]

[men laughing]

Fuck yeah.

Woo.

That felt good.

[indigenous people singing and drumming]

[laughing]

[indigenous people singing and drumming]

Having that childhood dream fulfilled for me,

oh, it’s just amazing.

And now it’s time to move on to the next chapter of my life.

I’m 43 years old.

I’m not trying to jump the Mega Ramp

or go win an X Game or anything like that.

Now I’m just getting started, you know?

Joe’s got his sleeves rolled up and he’s in.

[audience cheering]

Now, in the position that I am in,

I’m want to educate and be able to share.

It’s gotta be hard, though,

having only two people in your town that skate.

Yeah, it is hard.

I’ll grab this one.

Cool.

For you.

Put your bearings in there.

Your front foot will kick dead, dead ahead, you know?

I want to get the point across to the kids

that if I can make it happen

given the circumstances of how I was raised,

then there’s hope out there, man.

[laid back instrumental music] [waves lapping]

[indigenous people singing and drumming]

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Surviving the Horror of Residential Schools by Skateboarding