Ticket to glide: Manitoba First Nations kids get chance to cross-country ski through Spirit North program
Program supplies First Nations with ski equipment, helps set up ski clubs at community schools
A new program in Manitoba is giving First Nations children their first chance to cross-country ski.
Young people from five Manitoba communities — Nelson House, Berens River, Hollow Water, Bloodvein and Black River— gathered on the trails at Grand Beach Provincial Park Tuesday.
Some, like 10-year-old Lorne Wood, stepped into skis this winter for the first time.
"Me and my friends are always having fun," Wood said.
"I liked going down the jumps," said Amberly Ducharme. "I like when I fall and get up and try again."
"Some people crashed on the bottom, but they still went and tried again, so that's good," Elizabeth Bushie added.
The program, called Spirit North, was started a decade ago in Alberta by cross-country Olympian Beckie Scott.
It supplies First Nations with ski equipment and helps set up ski clubs at community schools. This December, the skiing program expanded to Manitoba.
"We got all the ski equipment out to the schools, and we started with basic drills: teaching them how to stand up when they fall over, getting them to do some gliding down hills," said Laura Filipow, the program director for Spirit North.
After months of practice, the young people in grades 4 through 8 gathered Tuesday to show off their new skills.
"We hope in the future, the kids are the ones that are mentoring the younger kids, and they're the ones that are then leading the program for their communities and their schools," Filipow said.
Spirit North, which now includes B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, reaches 8,000 youth each year.
"We've had schools talk to us about the mental health benefits they've seen of getting kids outside," Filipow said.
"We've seen community members start coming in skiing with their kids," she said. "It expands very easily into the greater community."
Black River's coach, Nathan Nepinak, said at first it was hard to get his students interested.
"Once they saw what we were doing, they started signing up more," he said.
The new ski supplies mean young people have an exciting new type of entertainment and exercise.
"There's no cost to it. So when we have all the equipment for them, all they have to do is sign up and we can bring them out," he said.
Nepinak says cross-country skiing outside is making a difference for the kids indoors too.
"They have to behave in class in order to be a part of the program, so the teachers noticed a big difference there. They see the other kids going out, so everybody wants to," he said.
"They're showing up for class more and getting their homework done."
Student Waylon Hinchcliff Brass said he wants to keep up skiing, now that he knows how.
"It's easy and fun for all the kids here," said Hinchcliff Brass. "Every time I ski it makes me feel like I want to be happy for my whole life."