Youth from four First Nations in Manitoba gathered in Winnipeg for one common goal – a day of sport and play.
Spirit North Manitoba hosted it’s second annual multi-community festival at a recreational facility in the city.
Nearly 100 students from Black River, Bloodvein, Berens River and Hollow Water also known as Wanipigow participated in a variety of cross-country ski activities.
The day started with a scavenger hunt through a nearby treeline.
“We found a red branch and a branch that looks like a ‘Y’,” 10-year-old Addison Ross announced proudly.
The day ended with some races and the chance to go downhill.
(11 year old Brody Wood from Hollow Water tries his hand at going downhill. Photo: Brittany Hobson/APTN)
For many kids, like 10-year-old Aveyah Hellwege from Berens River First Nation, the best part of the festival was having the opportunity to go fast down some hills but the hardest part was having to climb up those same hills.
The program started 10 years ago in Alberta by former Olympian Beckie Scott with the objective of introducing Indigenous communities to the benefits cross-country skiing can have on mental and physical health.
The organization operates in more than 40 communities across British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario.
It made its way to Manitoba in December 2018 as part of a two-year pilot project with help from Indigenous Services Canada to the tune of $1.7 million.
“It’s awesome to see the progress the kids are making in skiing. Definitely a higher skill level this year,” said Sam Anthony, who is the program leader in Hollow Water and Berens River.
(Some of the nearly 100 youth who participated in the multi-community festival. Photo: Brittany Hobson/APTN)
Spirit North provides equipment and trains locals so they can eventually become instructors in the communities.
Laura Filipow, program director for Spirit North, said most of the Manitoba communities have taken ownership of the program in its second year. This means the doors for expansion are further opened.
“It’s been a really good year for us to sort of build the foundations of what we built with the communities last year and we’re just going to keep seeing that strengthen,” she said. “So, if we do start to expand to other communities what we’ve already built won’t just be forgotten and left behind.”
Gabriel Hall has started to take on the role as facilitator for the program in Hollow Water.
A community member used to run a cross-country ski program two decades ago but it lapsed after her retired, said Hall.
(Aveyah Hellwege, left, and Addison Ross, both 10 year olds from Berens River First Nation. Photo: Brittany Hobson/APTN)
He teaches land-based learning courses and has now added cross-country skiing into the curriculum.
Hall has even taken it upon himself to develop groomed tracks in the First Nation after a few locals found an old track setter, a machine used to create trails, in a community member’s backyard.
“Now we’ve got trails out there, we’ve got a lot of equipment [Spirit North] helped us out with,” said Hall.
“It’s an excellent opportunity for the kids to just add one more activity outdoors.”
And while the youth got to skip a day of school for some time outside, for 11-year-olds Brody Wood and Haven Scott from Hollow Water the day was simply about, “having fun.”