All it took was a dash of curiosity. This propelled Dustin Henry to learn about heritage that was somewhat nebulous to him until recently. Doing so has changed his life, he said.
The pro skater has roots in the Yukon, strong ones. He was in Dawson City this month donating specially designed skateboards, testaments to Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in (TH) culture. Henry helped with workshops organized by his friend Adonika Jayne, where he taught kids how to setup their new boards —installing trucks and grip tape, etcetera. Beaded mukluks and mittens, made by his great grandmother, Annie Henry, and grandmother, Mary Marcelin, appear on the decks. So does work by Bertha Harper — mukluks — whom he doesn’t share a relation with but just finds her work “beautiful.”
For most of his life, though, Henry, 25, has lived thousands of kilometres away from this land and his big family here. He’s working to change this around. Apart from helping youth, that, he said, was a leading purpose of his visit.
“I pretty much wanted to pay homage to my family,” he said. “This is a way of me showing that, my appreciation, you know, and being proud of who I am, instead of being, you know, scared.
“It was pretty emotional for my brother and I, to go back and see everyone. It was overwhelming.”
Henry, who’s originally from Calgary, lives in Montreal right now and rides for Alltimers, a skateboarding company based out of New York City. It made Henry pro last year. Quartersnacks said he’s known for his “dance-y skateboarding.” That nails it.
Henry has been trying to reconnect with his First Nations family here for the past year. He’s moving to Vancouver next month in order to be closer to his brother, Tristan, and so that he can be on direct flight paths into the Yukon. And, if that’s not enough, Henry has been hitting the books, having enrolled in First Peoples Studies at Concordia University.
Making these changes has made him “more proud than ever about who I am and where I come from.
“I feel stronger, mentally. It’s kinda given me a whole new meaning to life. I know it sounds, like, a bit much, but it’s true. It’s made me think differently about my life and the way I live it.
“It’s just crazy when you’re so disconnected from it, forever, and you finally come back are like, ‘Wow, this is so special.’ It’s sad to know I missed out on so much, but I’m also happy and grateful that I’m reconnecting now. It means a lot to me. I’m really proud of who I am, where I come from. I’m proud of my family. And I just wanna continue the story, you know?”
The decks, which can be bought for $55 each, are available in skate shops that carry products made by Alltimers. They can also be purchased online.
Regardless of where you buy one, all proceeds from deck sales are going towards a new youth centre for TH, Henry said.
“I feel like if there’s a bigger space to go that’s comfortable for them with things going I feel that opens more doors, you know?” he said.
The current building has asbestos in it and is much too small to accommodate kids the way the First Nation wants to, said Jackie Olson, auntie to Henry.
She helped Henry facilitate the project from the Yukon, sending images of works made by relatives he wanted to picture on skateboards. Olson brought him up to speed on their family’s history.
“Growing up away from a larger family unit is always tough and being outside your cultural realm is tough, as well, but he wants to embrace it and wants to know more about it and understand it and be more a part of it,” she said.
“I think it’s really important to recognize a young person today is really reaching back and looking at his heritage and pulling those traditional things and incorporating it into a contemporary format. It’s that real honouring process. He’s a super nice kid.”
Contact Julien Gignac at firstname.lastname@example.org