Nearly 150 Indigenous students from Exshaw, Morley and Tssu T’ina Nation put down their books and strapped on a pair of cross-country skis for a fun filled day with some of Canada’s most decorated Olympians at the Canmore Nordic Centre, Tuesday (March 6).
The annual event was organized by Spirit North, a non-profit organization dedicated to improving the lives of Indigenous children and youth through sport.
“Today is really about using the full day to bring kids together, to have fun, to try a new sport, to meet Olympians, to really just have a day for them,” said Beckie Scott, CEO for the organization and a two-time Olympic medallist in cross-country skiing.
In the spirit of reconciliation, the event was emceed by Daryl Kootenay, co-founder of the Stoney Nakoda Youth Council, and included a traditional blessing followed by drumming and dancing by Indigenous students before they headed out the door for the day.
“Today is about bringing our Indigenous youth together to celebrate a beautiful day physically, mentally and spiritually,” said Kootenay, whose traditional name is Tatunga Wagici, which translates to Dancing Buffalo.
“These kinds of events are very healing for youth to come together and just enjoy a day of physical activity through sport and meeting new people and building healthy relationships.”
He described the event as an opportunity for kids to be kids.
“That’s what a lot of our generations have missed out on, they weren’t able to be that kid, they weren’t able to enjoy the beauty around them, but have seen all the negativity from residential school survivors and intergenerational trauma,” said Kootenay.
He said a lot of children are still feeling the effects of aggressive assimilation policies imposed by the federal government during the 19th century, however, an event like the Spirit North outing was an opportunity to begin healing and build new relationships with each other.
“We hear at a lot about reconciliation at higher levels, but it really comes down to youth and getting along with one another and talking about things with one another,” said Kootenay.
“A lot of times youth have gone through many challenges, tremendous challenges, on a daily basis and we forget to enjoy the beauty around us, so having a space like this, coming together with youth, really opens up that space to create healthy relationships to talk about something beautiful rather than something negative. That’s where that healing starts.”
For most students, the day was more about getting out of the classroom and having fun than it was about reconciliation, which, judging by the students’ enthusiasm, was the last thing on their mind.
“It’s cool because you only get to do this once a year,” said Keiven Chiniquay, a Grade 7 student from Exshaw Public School. “It’s pretty fun and cool to see Olympians come hang around with us.”
His comments were echoed by his fellow classmates.
“It’s exciting,” said Lenard Hunter, a Grade 7 students from Exshaw Public School.
Regardless of whether students were aware that the event was part of this country’s attempts to reconcile with its past, Kootenay said it’s the children and youth of today that will benefit from events like these in the future.
“I don’t think they know what reconciliation is, or what it means ultimately, but they’re the ones that are going to feel the impacts of reconciliation and that healing process and they’re the ones that are going to feel it by smiling more, by laughing more and by sharing more,” said Kootenay.