Pro skateboarder reconnects with his Yukon Indigenous roots

Professional skateboarder Dustin Henry grew up in Calgary, but his father is from Dawson City, Yukon. Henry recently visited Dawson for the first time in years, and brought some special gifts.

Dustin Henry's specially-designed boards feature mukluks and mitts

Professional skateboarder Dustin Henry (centre, in red jacket), in Dawson City, Yukon, where he delivered some of his specially-designed skateboards to local youth. (Submitted by Dustin Henry)

Dawson City, Yukon, just got a fleet of colourful new skateboards — all designed by a pro boarder paying tribute to his Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in roots.

"Skateboarding is something I've been doing my whole life. So it means a lot to me," said 25-year-old Dustin Henry, who grew up in Calgary but whose father is from Dawson.

"And then also reconnecting with my family and heritage — I don't know, it was like a good mix, you know, like bringing those two together, and honouring my family."

Henry and his brother Tristan recently visited Dawson for the first time in more than a decade, and they brought a bunch of Dustin's new and specially-designed boards with them, to give away.

The boards — made by the company that sponsors Henry, Alltimers — are decorated with images of traditional mukluks and mitts that were designed by Henry's grandmother and great-grandmother.

Professional skateboard Dustin Henry helps set up some of his specially-designed boards for youth in Dawson City, Yukon. (Submitted by Dustin Henry)

Henry's great-grandparents were Joe and Annie Henry, respected elders who became famous throughout Yukon and beyond for their traditional knowledge and skills, as well as the longevity of their marriage (80 years).

"I wanted to show people like, how amazing her work is," said Henry. "And same with my grandma Mary, I didn't realize how amazing she was at making these sacred items."

He brought some of the skateboards to Dawson, and gave half of them to relatives, and half to the local Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in youth centre.

"I didn't bring enough. I brought a dozen. But I didn't realize how much family was up there," he said.

The Dustin Yukon Board is being sold in some skateboard shops, as well as online — although it's listed as sold out on the Alltimers website. Proceeds from the sales are being donated to the youth centre in Dawson.   

Professional skateboarder Dustin Henry (in red hat) with his aunt and uncle and brother Tristan, in Dawson City, Yukon. (Submitted by Dustin Henry)

Henry says he didn't really have a plan before going to Dawson, but just showed up to see how things went. He ended up at the local skate park, letting kids try the boards and ride with a pro.

"I just wanted to, you know, like give something positive ... like not necessarily making anyone go down this road, but if they want it, it's an option."

Henry's skateboarding career sees him travelling all over the world. Next month, he'll be in Jamaica to shoot a commercial for Alltimers.

After that, he plans to set up a home base in Vancouver, and visit Dawson City more often with his brother Tristan. He already has plans to come to next summer's Moosehide gathering.

He's still learning about his own Indigenous roots, and has also finished a year of First Peoples studies at Concordia University.

His recent visit to Dawson with his brother was everything he hoped for.   

"It was a very emotional trip," he said. "It was pretty overwhelming, the amount of family that we have. And like all of the history.

"It was amazing, to say the least."

Written by Paul Tukker, based on an interview by Elyn Jones