A new program called Spirit North in Manitoba is helping dozens of First Nation kids to hit the ski trails to beat the winter blues and glide into success.
The program made its way to Manitoba in December for the first time.
The program was started 10 years ago in Alberta by former Olympian Beckie Scott with the aim to show kids the power of sport and play.
After months of training, youth from Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation (NCN), Berens River, Hollow Water and Black River First Nations gathered at Grand Beach Provincial Park for a day of celebration.
It’s also giving some youth, like Kari Spence from NCN, an opportunity to try cross country skiing for the first time.
“I like that you can go fast and you can fall,” said the 10-year-old. “It’s just fun.”
And falling is par for the course for a number of the kids including Layla Flett from Berens River.
“I was going fast and there was a bunch of people in the way,” said the 10-year-old after she fell down.
(Lenny Moore enjoying the outdoors with Spirit North. Photo: Brittany Hobson/APTN)
The program supplies the community with skis, boots and poles, as well as trains locals so they can become instructors.
“Our long term goal in the communities is that they’re self-sustaining programs supported by Spirit North when needed, but there’s people in the community that are the ones running the program and are mentoring the next generation of young ski leaders,” said Laura Filipow, the program director with Spirit North.
Nathan Nepinak is one of those instructors in Black River.
Nepinak is from Skownan First Nation but moved to the community after marrying his wife who is from there.
He coaches close to 50 kids in Black River with the youngest being is five-year-old son Chase.
“I do it every lunch hour depending on weather and then I do after school programs with them in the gym where they work on their core,” said Nepinak. “[I] do little fun games with them…skiing after school.”
(Laura Filipow, program director, and Chase the son of Nathan Nepinak. Photo: Brittany Hobson/APTN)
Throughout the day of celebration there’s games, races and, of course, more falling.
Covered in snow from a fresh fall, Lenny Moore, 12, has lost track of how many times he’s wiped out.
“[It’s] more times than I’ve been sledding down the hill that’s for sure,” he said.
Spirit North also operates in British Columbia and Saskatchewan.
In total the programming has reached 60 schools in the four provinces. They were able to reach news communities after receiving funding to the tune of $1.7 million from Indigenous Services Canada.
(Kids from a number of communities enjoy a day on skis. Photo: Brittany Hobson/APTN)
Spirit North isn’t just a positive for kids’ physical health. Filipow said benefits from the program have extended into the classroom as well.
“We’ve had so many teachers tell us that they see daily changes with their kids,” she said.
“They see their kids that maybe struggle in school…can’t quite handle sitting in a classroom all day. They get outside, they get to connect with nature, they get to connect with the land and they’re just able to focus more.”
But it’s not just the youths who’s lives are changing for the better.
Nepinak said he loves watching the kids let lose and have fun.
“My favourite part is when the kids come ask me, ‘when’s our group next,’” he said.