When Rose Archie’s sister and the older kids on the Canim Lake reserve used to set up their own skateboarding ramps at Eliza Archie Memorial School, Archie didn’t know how to skateboard but knew immediately she wanted to learn.
It was the early 1990s and skateboarding was not the well-known sport it is today. It was a scruffy-haired subculture of teens sporting baggy pants and toques before baggy pants and toques were commonplace.
Inspired by her sister, Charmy, and the other Tsq’escen’ kids, Archie found a community that supported and uplifted her - and has taken her all over “Turtle Island” to bring that inspiration to other Indigenous youth.
As the president and co-founder of Nations Skate Youth, she’s visited dozens of Indigenous communities in recent years giving out free skateboards to inspire and empower the next generation of Indigenous youth.
“I want to be the role model kids need,” Archie said. “I was just a young girl from Canim Lake that just picked up a skateboard and now I’m inspiring kids with a piece of wood and four wheels. I’ve come a long way.”
In those early days, Archie and her sister would hitchhike to Williams Lake or Kamloops on weekends to skateboard or go to punk shows, she recalls.
“Back then there weren’t a lot of Indigenous people skateboarding and there weren’t a lot of girls skateboarding,” she said. “We were skateboarding at a time where it wasn’t mainstream and it was kind of looked down upon as a bad kids activity.”
The skatepark in Williams Lake, located in Boitanio Park, was one of her favourite teenage haunts. The skating community accepted her and Charmy with “open arms,” even during the Gustafsen Lake Standoff in 1995 when anti-Indigenous racism was prevalent.
“That’s one thing skateboarding has always provided me with - it’s one of the most inclusive sports I’ve been in, where you’re accepted. No one is looking at the colour of your skin, how poor or how rich you are or your gender.”
When Archie moved to Vancouver in the early 2000s, the skateboarding community once more gave her a place to belong. As she matured, Archie began organizing skating events including Stop, Drop and Roll, B.C.’s only skateboarding event exclusively for women, trans, non-binary and gender non-conforming people.
She was inspired to start Nation Skate Youth in 2019 after her sister, Tracy Archie, passed away. Tracy was a mentor who always reminded her how important their culture was, Archie said.
“When I lost her I went to Mexico for 20 days and sat on top of the Pyramid of the Sun and I had all these matriarch butterflies flying around me,” Archie said. “I had that moment of realization that ‘I want to help the youth, I want to remind them to not give up.’”
After returning back to Vancouver, Archie reached out to several of her skateboarding friends including Joe Buffalo, Dustin Henry, Tristan Henry and Adam George. Together they founded in her living room what would come together as Nation Skate Youth in 2020 and began setting it up as an official non-profit.
Like Archie, the founding members of Nation Skate Youth have all found skateboarding to be a place of inclusion and healing. The Henrys have both been reconnecting in recent years with their roots in the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in First Nation, near Dawson City, while Buffalo attended residential school for five years.
Drawing upon these experiences Archie said they can talk to today’s youth about issues like substance abuse and suicide. Using the vehicle of skateboarding they can model positive behaviour and inspire young people.
“If they can see older people like us carrying on our songs and still practicing what’s been passed down to us it might inspire them (to do the same),” Archie said. “We’re just there to tell them things we wish we were told as teenagers.”
Since its formation, Nation Skate Youth has gone to over 60 First Nations communities across “Turtle Island” Archie said. This includes Hawaii, California, New Mexico, Yukon, Ontario, Alberta, Quebec and B.C. They’ve given out 1,300 free skateboards and donated funds to build six skateparks.
On Friday, Sept. 29 from 3:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. Archie is returning to Williams Lake to run the first Nation Skate Youth event in the Cariboo at the Boitanio Skate Park. She’ll be bringing 30 skateboards that will be given out to the first 30 children who attend, free of charge. The event is called the Orange T-Shirt Jam and is part of the wider celebration of Orange Shirt Day’s 10th anniversary.
“It’s really nice to be included in the commemoration, because I went to Williams Lake as a kid, so it’s nice to return decades later and bring something positive to the Indigenous community up there,” Archie said.
She’s looking forward to seeing old friends and family, too.
“I think the youth are going to be really inspired and it’s going to open up a community. It’s not only skateboarding, they can be the one inspired to take the photos or who make the videos, the one who starts the clothing companies. We want to create leadership when we leave these communities. That’s what it’s all about.”