Surviving the Horror of Residential Schools Through Skateboarding

New short film Joe Buffalo follows an Indigenous skateboarding legend who overcomes addiction and trauma stemming from his years in Canada’s church-run school system.

Directed by Amar Chebib and executive produced by Tony Hawk, the film’s subject, Joe Buffalo, discovered skateboarding the way most do: an older kid had a skateboard, and after seeing his cousin doing tricks on it, he had to try it for himself.

Though naturally talented and determined to make a life out of skateboarding, Joe was pulled off the reservation where he and his family lived in Alberta, Canada, and sent to an education institution for Indigenous children—boarding schools set up by the Canadian government and run by the church to ‘kill the Indian and save the child’, as Joe puts it in the film.

Though Joe managed to get out of the facility as soon as he came of age, the trauma of his upbringing would soon begin to permeate all other aspects of his life, with drugs, alcohol and partying pulling his focus away from skateboarding and eventually landing him in jail for a stint. But despite all the trauma and hardship, it was skateboarding that saved him again. Joe Buffalo is a moving portrait that’s getting a whole lot of love, and you can watch it right now, in the video player above.

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