Ski program for Indigenous youth expands throughout Western Canada

Ski program for Indigenous youth expands throughout Western Canada

EDMONTON — A charity that runs cross-country ski programs for Indigenous youth is expanding across Western Canada.

Spirit North, which was founded in 2009, started in four First Nation communities in northern Alberta to improve the health and well being of Indigenous youth through outdoor sport and play.

“We gradually expanded our footprint out from there,” said Beckie Scott, an Olympic medallist who runs the charity. “In the last four years, we began working in the south of Alberta — in the Morley area as well as Tsuut’ina.”

With the help of a federal government grant, they added three communities in B.C. in 2018. Another grant will allow the program to further expand in B.C. and into Saskatchewan and Manitoba in the coming year.

Scott, who first made a name for herself in 2002 when she captured Olympic gold in Salt Lake City, initially joined the program as an ambassador after retiring from competition following a silver medal win at the 2006 Turin Olympics. She also became a leading international voice to root out doping in sports.

Her contributions to sport led to her appointment as an officer of the Order of Canada last week.

In an interview with The Canadian Press prior to the announcement, she said she spent some time searching for her next role.

“I was really inspired and intrigued by the idea of sport for development — the concept that sport could be something other than high performance and Olympics,” said Scott. ”I was very interested in … the idea that it could be used to make a difference for people, especially kids.”

During her time as an ambassador with Spirit North, she said she saw its value and ended up taking over as the charity’s chief executive officer last year.

The program, which fits with several of the calls to action for reconciliation, creates opportunities for Indigenous children to benefit from outdoor sport.

“We bring a fleet of cross-country skis and boots and poles — all the equipment necessary — to the school and then operate the program all day long, trying to get every kid out on skis,” explained Scott. “It’s a really play-based approach so it’s fun, it’s supported, it’s learning and skills.”

Scott said each community tailors the program to its needs, deciding how many times a week to run it and bringing in volunteers for support.

“We talk a lot about healthy lifestyles, about mental health also — you know how physical activity and sport really make you feel better on the inside and help you deal with frustrations and stress you might be experiencing,” she said.

They are operating in 33 communities across Alberta and B.C. and another six will get started in Saskatchewan and Manitoba early in the new year.

During a panel discussion at the Banff Mountain Film Festival earlier this year, the principal of one of the schools involved said it has had a positive effect.

“It’s so exciting to be a part of Spirit North,” said Jeff Horvath, who works at the Grade 5 to 12 school on Tsuut’ina Nation in Alberta. “The impact is really great. What we really want to do is ignite passion in our young people.

“It’s nice to enjoy the children being children because so often our kids are put in situations that no children should be dealing with.”

Scott said they get great feedback from all the schools where the program operates.

“We see so many success stories and hear so much from teachers in terms of the way that they have observed students who come out of their shells or who aren’t performing academically or are struggling in the classroom, and they see them blossom when they are out in the schoolyard with their skis on,” she said.

“We’ve had kids tell us ‘this program has made me want to come to school, it made me feel like I can be good at something, like I belong, like I’m included.’”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Dwayne Buckle, 40 of Red Deer finished a 1,638-kilometre walk, in honour of his family. The 12-week, 82 day-journey wrapped up in Port Hardy, B.C. on Monday. Facebook photo
Red Deer man completes 1,638 km hike for cancer research

Dwayne Buckle, a Red Deer firefighter returned home Friday after his 12-week journey

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine deliveres to Canada are being delayed because of complications at their European distribution facility. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Delays of Pfizer vaccine delivery to impact Alberta’s vaccination plans

Alberta has administered 74,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine so far

Two inmates at Bowden Institution have tested positive for COVID-19. (Black Press File Photo)
2 Bowden inmates test positive for COVID-19

A pair of inmates at Bowden Institution have tested positive for COVID-19.… Continue reading

Salons and barbershops are able to open on Monday, the Government of Alberta announced this week. (Photo courtesy Pixabay)
Red Deer salon owner “relieved” business can re-open next week

The owner of a Red Deer salon says she’s “definitely relieved” her… Continue reading

Red Deer Valhalla Pure Outfitters owner Darren Schaedeli has seen a significant increase in those looking to tackle winter experiences. Some are trying their hand at "hot tent camping" as he did in the West Country several weeks ago.
Photo contributed
Central Albertans enjoying the great outdoors this winter

Stir crazy and beach-deprived central Albertans are embracing the great outdoors this… Continue reading

Lesser Slave Lake UCP MLA Pat Rehn. (Facebook)
Updated: Jason Kenney kicks Lesser Slave Lake MLA out of caucus

Pat Rehn will not be permitted to run for UCP nominations

Manchester United's Tobin Heath celebrates scoring against West Ham United during the FA Women's Super League match at Victoria Road Stadium, London, Sunday Oct. 18, 2020. (John Walton/PA via AP)
Double 1st: Man U men, women leading 2 leagues, play champs

Double 1st: Man U men, women leading 2 leagues, play champs

A group of Buffalo Bills fans from Toronto pose for a photo while tailgating in the parking lot of New Era Field before an NFL football game between the Bills and the New York Jets, Sunday, Dec. 9, 2018, in Orchard Park, N.Y. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Adrian Kraus
Being unable to attend Bills playoff games due to pandemic pains Canadian fans

Being unable to attend Bills playoff games due to pandemic pains Canadian fans

FILE - Chicago Cubs' Kris Bryant runs the bases after hitting a solo home run in the sixth inning during a baseball game against the Cleveland Indians in Cleveland, in this Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2020, file photo. Bryant is among roughly 125 players who entered Friday, Jan. 15, 2021, eligible to exchange salary arbitration figures with their teams. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak, File)
Lindor, Bryant, Bellinger, Seager get big-money deals

Lindor, Bryant, Bellinger, Seager get big-money deals

Brooklyn Nets coach Steve Nash points during the third quarter of the team's NBA basketball game against the New York Knicks on Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021, in New York. (Brad Penner/Pool Photo via AP)
More NBA games off, as league continues struggles with virus

More NBA games off, as league continues struggles with virus

Washington Capitals' Jakub Vrana (13) is congratulated for his goal during the second period of the team's NHL hockey game against the Buffalo Sabres, Friday, Jan. 15, 2021, in Buffalo, N.Y. (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes)
Vanecek makes 28 saves in NHL debut, Capitals sweep Sabres

Vanecek makes 28 saves in NHL debut, Capitals sweep Sabres

Chicago Blackhawks goaltender Collin Delia (60) makes a save after Tampa Bay Lightning left wing Ondrej Palat (18) fell down during the first period of an NHL hockey game Friday, Jan. 15, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
Stamkos, Palat lift Lightning over Blackhawks again

Stamkos, Palat lift Lightning over Blackhawks again

Canadian women's soccer team member Rhian Wilkinson is seen during a training session in Vancouver, B.C. Wednesday, April 21, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Former Canadian international Rhian Wilkinson leaves Canada Soccer coaching job

Former Canadian international Rhian Wilkinson leaves Canada Soccer coaching job

Tkachuk, Senators down Maple Leafs 5-3 in 1st game in 10 months

Tkachuk, Senators down Maple Leafs 5-3 in 1st game in 10 months

Most Read