Three northern SK communities to host Spirit North activities
- NC Raine | February 14, 2019
Winters in Saskatchewan can be particularly long and cold, with many finding little reason, or motivation, to brave the outdoors for extended periods of time. A study from Stats Canada showed that only 9% of a sample of children aged 7 – 14 met the Canadian physical activity guideline of 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity a day. Spirit North is working to change that.
Spirit North is an Alberta-based charity that provides cross-country skiing programs and other sports and activities to Indigenous youth. A grant from Indigenous Services Canada is allowing Spirit North to expand their program to communities in Saskatchewan and Manitoba in 2019.
“It’s really exciting to be expanding to different provinces and reach more and more kids every year,” said Laura Filipow, Program Director at Spirit North.
In Saskatchewan, Spirit North will start in three communities later this winter: Mistawasis First Nation, Montreal Lake Cree Nation, and Sally Ross School at Hall Lake.
Spirit North was founded in 2009 as a way to introduce Indigenous youth to cross country skiing. It is now overseen by Olympic gold medalist Beckie Scott – the first Canadian, and North American woman, to win an Olympic medal in cross country skiing. The program isn’t just about introducing kids to skiing, but developing healthy physical and mental practices in northern communities.
“The health and wellness benefits of a program like this – getting kids out and active on skis, is something that’s almost immeasurable. The feedback we get from teachers and participants on health benefits is something that can’t be understated,” said Filipow. “Many of the remote communities we work with don’t otherwise have access to outdoor programming.”
According to Spirit North, schools recorded a 98% attendance on Spirit North ski days, 99% of students enjoyed the ski days, and 90% wanted to exercise more after ski days. Participants also found a positive impact on mental health, with 90% of students discovering that exercise helped them “feel better inside.”
“We’ve had so much positive feedback from teachers who have seen some of their kids, who might be more hyperactive, now able to sit and focus,” said Filipow.
“The kids are just stoked to have the physical activity. So many of them get cabin fever in the winter (...) and in some cases, parents are taking part in the program. They’re finding it a good way to get connected with their kids in a different way.”
Lannie Houle is one of the program instructors who works with eight different Indigenous communities, teaching the kids to ski, but also sharing her story about how physical activity has opened opportunities in her life.
“It’s about setting goals, yet having fun at the same time,” said Houle. “The kids are excited about it, and always wanting to get better. And the teachers tell us how much it helps with focusing in class.”
“The kids learn that being healthy and exercising can also be a lot of fun,” she said.
In addition to the three communities in Saskatchewan, Spirit North currently offers programs to 7 communities in British Columbia, 44 in Alberta, and 4 in Manitoba. The outdoor, land-based programming also includes snow shoeing, cross country running in the fall, hiking in the spring, and canoeing and fishing in some communities.
Filipow said Spirit North visits each community to build the program that’s right for them. Each community is encouraged to provide input from all its members on what they need. Spirit North then sends professionals, and even sometimes former Olympians, to get the kids out and enjoying the outdoors.
“We want to make sure we build the program in ways that are sustainable for the communities,” said Filipow.
“There’s so much more we can do in Saskatchewan. There’re so many communities that are remote and have amazing kids that want to get outside. So, I think we’ll expand as much as possible in as many communities that’ll have us.”