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Spirit North helping Okanagan Indigenous youth reach full potential through sport | iNFOnews


Community Program Manager Tyren Boots helps West Bench student Dane Baylis with his cross country skiing skills at the Nickel Plate Nordic Centre. Two languages ​​(nsyilxcn -Sylix/Okanagan Nation language) mark the trails.

Photo credit: Mark Brett, Local Journalism Initiative


February 13, 2023 – 2:19 p.m






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.

Since there is no cost to the student, all socio-economic groups can participate, which is a key element of the Spirit North philosophy.

West Bench Elementary School's Gavin Tatebe practices his balance.

West Bench Elementary School’s Gavin Tatebe practices his balance.

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Photo credit: Mark Brett, Local Journalism Initiative

The Nickel Plate Nordic Centre, southwest of Penticton, has been the home of the program since its expansion to BC in 2018.

Participating schools at Nickel Plate include the Penticton Indian Band’s Outma Sqilx’w Cultural School and the Osoyoos Indian Band’s Sen ‘Pok’ Chin School.

Spirit North also offers classes in partnership with the Telemark Nordic Club and Westbank First Nation in West Kelowna for the students at the S?nsisyust?n 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 children who otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity.”

Scott was the first North American woman to win an Olympic medal in cross-country skiing in Salt Lake City in 2002.

She later chaired the Athletes’ Committee of the World Anti-Doping Agency and was a strong advocate for drug-free sport.

Kevin Dunn, Head of Spirit North, demonstrates technique for students at the Nickel Plate Nordic Centre.

Kevin Dunn, Head of Spirit North, demonstrates technique for students at the Nickel Plate Nordic Centre.

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Photo credit: Mark Brett, Local Journalism Initiative

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 10, the Nickel Plate will host its annual end-of-season Spirit North Festival after a two-year absence due to the pandemic. 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.


— This story was originally published by the Penticton Herald.

News from © iNFOnews, 2023

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