Spirit North: Empowering Indigenous youth through sport and play

Spirit North: Empowering Indigenous youth through sport and play

“Every time I ski, it makes me feel like I want to be happy for my whole life.”

-Student, Black River First Nation in Manitoba

In Canada’s remote northern communities, geographical isolation and socioeconomic limitations reduce the opportunities children have to become involved in organized sport. One cross-country ski program, Spirit North, is tackling this inequality by overcoming some of these barriers to participation in sport.

Founded in 2009 by three-time Olympian Beckie Scott, a Canadian cross-country ski icon, Spirit North aims to create more opportunities for Indigenous youth to connect to sport, play, the outdoors, and the land.

The Spirit North team spends fun-filled days teaching kids to cross-country ski. The organization has even provided equipment when required.

“Spirit North programs had a big impact on my children. The programs gave them the ability to know that they can. They developed a willingness to try. A willingness to go further.”

-Parent and helper, Witset First Nation in northwest B.C.

The organization develops programs specific to each community in order to incorporate its traditions, culture, and heritage. Last year alone, the group worked with 6,300 kids in five provinces, one territory, 77 schools, and 62 communities.  

To keep the programs sustainable, Spirit North assists in building ski clubs, developing trails, and certifying coaches, so that the programs are community-led. 

“Spirit North made me want to come to school and gave me something to look forward to. Now I’m a ski leader and that makes me feel like I belong and can be good at something.”

-Student, Beaver Lake Cree Nation in northern Alberta

Skiing has become part of the day-to-day and after-school life of so many communities. And the kids are thrilled!

“Students who have attended regular ski sessions seem to be happier at school, more sociable with peers and their teachers, get along well with others and have more energy at school. They tried something new to them and every one of them felt success. This might help them be more open to trying new things in their life. They still talk about how much fun they had!”

– A teacher’s testimonial

Through working with Spirit North, teachers, parents, community members, and the kids themselves have found new connections with sport, the land, and joy. 

Because at the end of the day, all kids deserve the right to play.

Photos courtesy of Spirit North.

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