The Follow Up: Joe Buffalo
Joe Buffalo’s story is wilder than almost any movie. From early success to being on death’s door and back, he’s made it through with a resilience you could only describe as remarkable. We spoke with Joe a while back, but with a new guest board on Antihero and a part to back it up, it was time to catch up with our old friend. Read on as he talks us through the fasting and manifesting of a Sundance ceremony and how his new board confronts Canada’s Royal Canadian Mounted Police head on.
From his home to ours, Joe charges forward with this powerful part for Antihero
Hey, Joe! Where am I reaching you at today?
I’m in Whitehorse, Yukon doing Nations Skate Youth work.
Damn, lucky I got you on cell service.
Well, I didn’t have it where we were so I drove in a bit.
Thanks for doin’ that. Can you update us on how your life’s been since the last time we talked to you?
I’ve just been on this journey of self-discovery and getting a good handle on my triggers. They’ll be forever, but I’m surrounded by solid people and I’m finally better at regulating my nervous system. There’s so much unresolved trauma pent up that’s so deep. I used to take to the bottle and drugs, but once I realized I didn’t need all that stuff to function, I just started filling that void with positive things. I’m still an addict, but I just can’t do it anymore. Pre-contact, my people didn’t even know what alcohol was. So that’s why it affects us so differently than non-natives. It’s taken decades for me to figure that out. So replacing that with positive stuff is like planting a seed and then you pull out this big, giant golden six-foot carrot. Then you look and there’s six other hands holding the same carrot as you. It’s like, We started this two years ago and look how it’s growing into this giant thing! So it's just been me, constantly working on projects and trying to do as many positive things as I can. There’s so many, I almost forget. That’s my buzz now.
One of the many positive things, 5-0 off the end
Have you still been building up Colonialism skateboards?
Yeah, it has been full-steam ahead. It was me and the owner of Colonialism for years. I figured the time was right to handpick a team, so that’s what I did. These past holidays, I just went to some riders that were indigenous and was like, This is kind of in alignment with what you’re about. I would be honored, plus it would give yourself a platform and a way to honor your ancestors in a way that I had. I think it gives 'em a form of identity, too. We’re all skate rats, obviously. So I just built a team and turned some homies pro. Hopefully, it will give other indigenous youth something to strive for. I also want to help my homies that slipped through the cracks. Chad Dickson, for instance, had three covers and some of my favorite parts to date, but he wasn’t given that opportunity to honor his ancestors. So it’s beautiful the way it’s growing. We got better boards now, too. So Colonialism has been a pretty powerful outlet I’ve had.
I feel like when that New Yorker film came out, that it was huge. People who didn’t skate were sending it to me. How was the reception to that, and were you stoked on what followed from telling your story?
There were a bunch of different places it could’ve gone, but The New Yorker jumping on board allowed for it to get pushed in a way that we were able to go Academy Awards qualifiers. They buy a couple films every year, and some of them they give that push. They pay for ads and commercials. I was lucky enough that ours was chosen for that. I can’t remember how many nods we needed to get into the awards, but we were only shy one or two. Regardless of that fact, what happened was that film was selected to get into the curriculum of The State of New York. Also I was screening at the Cleveland Film Festival, and I was on a panel with six other people—one of which had been nominated for an Oscar. So I did this panel, told my story and soon after that Tony Hawk got involved.
Back Smith in The Bay, study that
Tony started promoting the film after that?
He hopped on as an Executive Producer. After getting in touch with some more people we sent a pitch about the film and how Tony could help. He said yes and I couldn’t believe it. I’m a Bones Brigader! I grew up in that era and emulated Tony, so it was just beautiful that it worked out that way.
He really holds it down still!
He’s a saint, in my eyes.
So on top of doing stuff with Colonialism and Nations, you also have a new Antihero board. How did that happen?
A buddy of mine Kevin McKouvery at Supra had gone into Deluxe and had mentioned something about how cool it would be if I had guest board on Krooked. I guess Julien just chimed in and was like, Dude, let’s just give him an Antihero board. That’s the short version. So in the July before the film came out, I had participated in a ceremony back home in Maskwacis, Alberta—Samson Cree Nation. It’s called a Sundance ceremony. This is one of the most transformative experiences. It’s how you would get your indigenous name through ceremony. That was July of that year and October is when the film came out. So I had the ceremony to just ask the Creator that I wanted the biggest and baddest individuals in the game to come and back my play. Through ceremony and the power of prayer, through working through the Creator, I went through that ceremony. I fasted for three days, no food or water. Normally, if I skip a meal I fuckin’ hate people. Here I am three days in and I gotta go dance! So you pretty much start seein’ shit. Once done with that, I went back to Vancouver to continue my work. Then the film came out in October and look who came knockin’! It was more like, who came on board first—it was Tony! Also, I’d been skating these Antihero boards since ‘95—my first one was a Sean Young back in the day. I had two of ‘em back to back. I identified with this company way back then. And seeing Julien skate, since he was goofy and I was goofy, I was like, This is how skateboarding is supposed to look. It’s the rawest shit imaginable. So it’s like I called Julien and Tony in through ceremony. And I’m calling more people in as long as I keep this relationship with the Creator. It’s only been five-and-a-half years and I’ve been able to accomplish all these things. I could have said, I should have quit drinkin’ 20 years ago, but it wouldn't have made me the man who I am today. Sounds shitty, but I’m thankful for rock-bottoming when I did. There were three overdoses in a year and my guardian angels were there for me—to make sure someone came and resuscitated me. My guides, my ancestors, I’m very fortunate their blood is coursing through my veins. I’m supposed to do big things. So I felt like this is supposed to happen.
Holy shit. Those are two heavy figures to have in your corner. So this graphic is a pretty radical image. You have the mounties falling off a cliff and your people are above them with their weapons up in victory. Can you talk to me about the art process of coming up with this design?
So back in the day, the Blackfoot natives used to run buffalo off a cliff—useless slaughtering. That was their form of hunting. It was their major source of food. It still is to this day. If you’re a hunter, then you know when you kill an animal with adrenaline pumping through its body, the meat goes spoiled. It no longer has that wild game taste. If you shoot a deer and you miss, you don’t just start blasting. So Chief Poundmaker, what he was famous for, was building that six-foot-high fence, which was like a 60-foot-wide half circle. He would then heard the buffalo into this corral. They would wait for half an hour or more, and that’s when out of nowhere, the warriors would pop up with their bows and catch them without the buffalo even knowing. They’d take the ones they needed and heard out the rest. So that was the humane way of capturing buffalo back in the day. That corral, they called it a pound. So you have Chief Poundmaker and I'm a direct descendant of him. My first pro model on Colonialism skateboards was me honoring my grandfather six generations ago. I’ve always dreamt of having that graphic since I was eight years old.
So the RCMP, the role they played in Canada was, as the Queen’s henchmen, to go door-to-door and to rip kids from their parents—right from their home, right from their bed. They would force these kids into these institutions. And a lot of these kids wouldn’t make it home, and a lot of them were sexually abused or murdered right there at the school. So seeing a board being made, the conversation started. Not a lot of people have conversations like that. You know that awkward feeling when a conversation gets uncomfortable? I want more of that. Because if you want reconciliation, you gotta be able to handle the truth. That’s just how it goes. So that’s all I’m doing, is educating people on what really took place. The RCMP have been facilitating genocide on my people since contact and are still continuing to do so to this day. This is just a conversation-starting piece to remind the public what their role really was and how they purposely profiled and treated indigenous people harshly as well as not allowing us to practice our ceremonies. It was their job to strip indigenous children from their homes and force them into residential schools. This was why the RCMP was created. There were other mockups of boards that could’ve been, but that was the one I chose to go with.
High-speed back 180 nosemanny on the tall block
That’s a powerful fuckin’ graphic, man.
But you know, my dad got it really bad in residential school and he was indoctrinated into that RCMP stuff. He tried to become an RCMP. He passed the school and everything. He was perfect for it—the guy was a fighter, a boxer, a violent dude. He very much wanted to be one of them when I was a kid growing up. He couldn’t make it, so he ended up becoming a tribal cop. Can you imagine growing up and your father is the man?! We’d be so bored we’d get into high-speed chases that we’d call on ourselves. We’re just like, Alright, we got dirtbikes; let’s go. We’re gonna cut holes in fences and take ‘em on joy rides. When you’re young and your dad tells you not to do something—and he’s in a uniform!—you’re gonna do the opposite and then multiply it.
And you were skating, too?
The skateboard was just to even things out. It’s a pretty violent reserve, a violent community I grew up in. If I didn’t pick that up, I would've been the leader of a gang or somethin’. That’s all that was around when I was a kid.
Two flights in a photo, but Joe's on his own trip. Big O
That’s awesome you avoided that. There’s been some momentum in Canadian skating, as well as native skating up there. One of the bigger names is Dustin Henry. He’s in the new Vans video and just got announced on Frog. What has it been like seeing someone who has native ancestry and from Canada make a splash in the skate world?
I can’t even put it into words, since I’ve known Dustin since he was really young. Just to see how he’s grown and come up all the way from Calgary, it’s amazing. It makes me super proud that I’m allowed to work alongside him on top of him being one of my favorite skaters. So it's just like, Wow, not only are you like super easy to get along with and easy to talk to you, but you also carry yourself really well.
You’ve got the board and a new part to go with it. What do you hope that people get out of this occasion?
Indigenous people are automatically gifted from the day they're born. That's just how it is. We're born survivors. So to get a skateboard under your feet at a young age I think is important. I’m 47 years old and I can’t claim it was all back-to-back, but I’ve been a skate rat the entire time. It’s been like a boomerang—I’ve thrown it away and taken time off ‘cause I was in jail or injured, but it always comes back. I just want people to see how grateful I am that my skateboard still fucking listens to me, even though I’ve been so abusive to my body and myself. It’s never too late. Especially because I'm indigenous, our bodies are just built differently. We're just different, man. Resiliency is just every day. I suppressed a lot of shit and took it out on the sauce or drugs. I didn’t deal with it until now. On top of therapy and ceremony, sharing my stories puts more into my strut and I feel more confident.
Well, it’s really impactful to the people who listen. Also, you're fucking ripping now. To close it out, are there any native skaters to shout out to give more shine?
Because of my era, it was definitely Sam Devlin. He was an indigenous skater from Vancouver. Everybody at Nations, Rose, Tristan and Dustin. We’re just trying to catch the kids before the bad guys do. I also don’t wanna leave anyone out.
Well, it’s been an absolute pleasure. Anything I left out?
I'm glad that people actually are listening to me now. I’m grateful to the people who stuck by me and everyone who gave me the benefit of the doubt. I’m still just grateful my skateboard listens to me.
Be like his board and listen to Joe. Back Smith back into the bank. Congrats on the board and thanks again for the constant inspiration
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