Ice-road jigging social media challenge turns into throwdown for northern chiefs

Dozens of people are driving out onto frozen rivers and lakes, where they stop, blare fiddle music and break into high-speed jigs as part of an uplifting Facebook video challenge.

Viral Facebook videos in Sask. and Manitoba give glimpse into life in the north

Some of the participants in the ice-road jigging challenge that's making the rounds on Facebook. Pictured here: Chief Tammy Cook-Searson, top left, Grandmother's Bay residents, top right, Southend resident Tommy Bird, bottom left, Hatchet Lake residents, bottom right. (Facebook)

Two men jig enthusiastically on a patch of ice in northern Saskatchewan, their feet slipping as they throw down their hats and, speaking in Dene, invite a friend to join them.

Elsewhere, a man stands on an ice road with headlights illuminating the scene, while a truck queues up fiddle music for him to jig to.

"For the record, I'm sober by the way. I'm not drinking," Clearwater Lake Dene Nation Chief Ted Clark tells his videographer.

He laughs and his arms start swinging and his feet move to the beat.

These are some of the submissions in what's being called the "ice-road jigging challenge" on Facebook.

Politicians and residents alike in northern Saskatchewan and Manitoba who travel on ice roads are getting thousands of views for their videos, which feature them driving or walking out onto the ice and doing their variation on a jig.

Lac La Ronge Chief Tammy Cook-Searson, from northern Saskatchewan, traces the trend back to a resident from Manitoba, in the Gods Lake Narrows area, whose video has more than 2,300 shares.

 Cook-Searson's motivation to join in was simple: she said the concept looked fun.

"Somebody commented and said, 'This is getting me through the winter,'" she told CBC.

'It captures the spirit of the north'

Cook-Searson's video is about a minute long. In it, she has her dog in tow on a leash while she jigs to music from a Pelican Narrows fiddler that's blasting over the speakers of her truck.

"I think it captures the spirit of the north, and also that it shows that there are ice roads out there," she said.

"As soon as the ice [is] there, then you're able to travel in a different way rather than just by boat or canoe."

That can save a lot of time. For example, the ice roads cut a 20-minute boat ride to Grandmother's Bay down to a five-minute drive, she said.

Cook-Searson did her jig on an ice road on Wollaston Lake — 700 kilometres northeast of Saskatoon. The road had opened just a few days earlier — later than usual this year due to issues with the ice road grooming equipment, said Jeanelle Tsannie, a Wollaston Lake teacher.

'We put on a good show'

She joined the region's chief, Bart Tsannie, and band Coun. George Tsannie for their own version of the challenge on Friday — it's the video that features Dene speaking and the hat throwdown.

"We put on a good show," Chief Tsannie said.

In an interview, he underplayed his jigging skills, saying he picked up dancing from other people.

But Jeanelle said his moves were the result of years of hosting dances in Wollaston Lake, where he dances and sings in Dene.

"Our chief is pretty cool," she said. "He's a very talented chief."

The downside of ice roads

There is a serious side to all this, though: people have died after falling through the ice on the Wollaston Lake road.

Chief Tsannie said the Wollaston Lake ice road is the only access to the community in the winter, and the band has been lobbying for years for enough funds to build a year-round road.

For now, Chief Tsannie is enjoying the challenge and said he hopes to see others — like the chief of Saskatchewan's Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations — join in.

Cook-Searson said all but one person she's challenged has joined in. Her mother refused to participate on the weekend, saying it was "too windy" and she'd do it another day.

Cook-Season said she's waiting.