Spirit North helping Indinginous youth reach full potential through sport | Spare News

Tiren Boots is a transplanted member of the Ontario Mohawk Nation, whose office is in the snow-capped fields and forests high above the Okanagan Valley. At this time of year, the tools of the trade for a 25-year-old now living in Kelowna are a pair of cross-country skis and a big smile. As one of the community program directors for the national non-profit organization Spirt North, his key clients are the children of families who have lived in the area for centuries. “Working with so many different First Nations students is just so much fun. I love it,” said Boots, who played lacrosse and varsity hockey. “Every program we have is land based and having these kids out here in the wild and having that perspective is just so important to them. Something they can take with them for the rest of their lives.” In partnership with schools and communities, Alberta-based Spirt North uses land-based activities to improve the health and well-being of Indigenous youth. Because there is no cost to the student, all socioeconomic groups can participate, which is a key component of the Spirit North philosophy.

The Nickel Plate Nordic Centre, southwest of Penticton, has hosted the program since its expansion to BC in 2018. Participating schools in Nickel Plate include the Penticton Indian Band’s Outma Sqilx’w Cultural School and the Sen ‘Pok’ Chin School of the Osoyoos Indian Band. Spirit North also offers classes in partnership with the Telemark Nordic Club and Westbank First Nation in West Kelowna for the students at the Sənsisyustən House of Learning. According to two-time Olympic medalist Beckie Scott, the organization’s CEO, it’s individuals like Boots who form the backbone of the organization. “We’ve managed to attract a truly remarkable group who are the most caring and confident individuals I could imagine on a team,” said Scott, an officer with the Order of Canada. “Relationships are the cornerstone of our success and I think our leaders have truly done an incredible job in developing and building positive relationships not only with the children but also with the communities we work with. “It warms my heart beyond… beyond anything. I’ve had a very successful career as an Olympic athlete, and it’s just as rewarding and inspiring to be able to bring it to communities and to children who might not otherwise have the opportunity.” Scott was the first North American woman to enroll in Salt Lake City in 2002 won an Olympic medal in cross-country skiing. She later chaired the Athletes’ Committee of the World Anti-Doping Agency and was a strong advocate for drug-free sport.

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For Perianne Jones, Spirit North Regional Coordinator for South BC, also a former Olympic skier and World Cup medalist, the growth of the local youth and program has been immense. “Students are getting faster and more experienced,” she said. “I went skiing with the kids this morning and I’m sweating trying to keep up with them. “We can go further now, up bigger hills and down bigger hills, and they can be a bit silly on their skis. It doesn’t matter if they’re 100 percent ski on their feet as long as they enjoy being out with their friends and building that camaraderie.” On March 10th, Nickel Plate hosts its annual Spirit after a two-year absence due to the pandemic North Festival at the end of the season. On this day, hundreds of children, parents, teachers and others will come together to celebrate their achievements and their culture. The Westbank Festival in Telemark is scheduled for March 6th.

The Canadian Press. All rights reserved.

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