On the Board and In Community: Dustin Henry Indigenizes the Skateboarding Space
“My dream was to skateboard for a living. It took this long to get to where I'm at but it also does feel rewarding to get to this point, because it's something I've worked for and something I've always wanted“ recounts Dustin Henry, who grew up in Calgary and now lives in Squamish. Now he does just that; he made his dream come true.
Henry is a Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in First Nation member and co-founder of Nation Skate, an organization created for connecting with Indigenous youth through skateboarding. They visit communities and help build skateboarding communities wherever they go, bringing joy and people together. With everyone busy with jobs and life commitments, they don’t always deliver workshops together like they used to. Henry has a baby on the way and with living in Squamish, he’s a bit further away from workshops in the city but he tries to show up as much as he can.
For over twenty years, Henry has been skating. He started when he was 8 and skateboarding was something he and his Nation Skate co-founders wanted to share with youth. “I think that's what is so special about Nation Skate: spending time with each other, sharing things with each other, learning and teaching. It's always hard to leave at the end of the day,” he smiles. Henry gets shy and nervous doing workshops and he finds the kids feel the same way, but by the end of the day, everyone is comfortable and he’s driven to do more workshops.
“I feel like when you're young, sometimes you forget how important family is. Everyone's journey is so different. But it just took me a while to realize how important family is.”
What kept Henry going with skateboarding when he was first learning was his brother. “We grew up skating together, which I feel super grateful for. I don't think I would have stuck with it as hard as if I didn't have him. We have each other. I think having support is really important,” he offers.
“I feel like I've never really faced any racial discrimination because I'm white-passing, so I feel I had the space to like to be able to share more,” Henry reflects. The skateboard he designed with his sponsor, Alltimers, features his family’s moccasins and mukluks and it was part of his efforts to indigenize the skateboarding space. He’s reconnected with his heritage so he could share that with others.
A message he would want to share with his younger self would be to take other people’s advice with a grain of salt. Henry feels he’s someone who can be influenced easily and that’s why he believes it’s important to focus on what you really want and how you feel. “Try to listen to what your heart is telling you and follow that first,” he advises.
When people find out he skateboards for a living, Henry finds people are confused. “I shouldn't be embarrassed because I'm actually proud of it, but I just feel funny saying it to people,” he explains. He has a lot of free time doing what he does and he works on himself when he’s not working in his job. Henry used to be a dishwasher and now he also works at a gas station just to pass the time.
“You're definitely your own boss and I feel like that can be difficult.”
When he’s skateboarding, Henry draws inspiration from his partner and their baby. He’s also inspired by creative pursuits like DJing and drawing, wanting to create more as he makes beats and art. Sewing and beading also inspire him, as does his family. “I wouldn't know how to do any of that if they didn't teach me,” he smiles.
His dream was to skateboard for a living. It took time to get to where he is but it’s something he’s worked for and always wanted. Dustin Henry made his dream come true, and now he shares that dream with Indigenous youth so they can do the same for themselves if they want to. Bringing his whole self to his sport, he’s indigenizing the space and making the most of his opportunity to give back, on his board and in community.
Thanks to Alison Tedford Seaweed for authoring this article.
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