Knowledge keeper Richard Armstrong talks to students at the start of the day.                                Mark Brett/Western News

Knowledge keeper Richard Armstrong talks to students at the start of the day. Mark Brett/Western News

Sharing the voices of the mountains with Spirit North

Celebrating the first season of the Spirit North ski program for Indigenous youth at Nickel Plate

Knowledge-keeper Richard Armstrong returned this week to the mountains of his childhood, where he first learned not all words of understanding are spoken out loud.

It was also there, over a half century ago, he felt in his heart what he believed was Mother Earth’s message to him.

Those were the teachings the 73-year-old Penticton Indian Band elder shared with the 165 young faces staring up at him from the snow bank at Nickel Plate Nordic Centre during the season-end celebration of the Spirit North Indigenous ski program Monday.

“So when I count to three I want you to yell as loud as you can, so the mountains can hear you,” he asked the elementary school students, who happily obliged him when he counted down in his traditional nsyilxcən dialect. “That’s good, now the mountains will always remember you when you come back.”

Armstrong recalls being with family members in the mountainous region west of Penticton — when “there were no ski resorts” and where they hunted and fished.

“To me, coming back and looking at the kids here and having them feel that goodness and closeness of the mountain, to know those mountains are alive, that is why I’m here today,” he said. “When you look at everything around us, the trees, the snow, the plants, our way of thinking is that everything that’s alive out here is our parents and that good feeling that you feel is them taking care of us.”

This particular day was all about culture for the youngsters, many of whom had a chance to try cross country skiing for the first time through the free program operated in conjunction with the school district, Nickel Pate and the PIB.

The program’s purpose is really two-fold, according to Spirit North CEO Beckie Scott who brought her Olympic gold and silver medals to Nickel Plate for the kids to see and wear.

“It’s about these children connecting to the land,” said Scott. “This is very much a celebration of sport and activity, but also an opportunity to share culture and bring everybody together.

“It warms my heart beyond … beyond anything. I had a very successful career as an Olympic athlete and this is easily as rewarding and inspiring and to be able to bring it to communities, to kids, who would not otherwise have this opportunity.”

Related: VIDEO: Spirit North take Indigenous youth back to the land through sport

The Alberta-based, non-profit Spirit North branched out into B.C. for the first time this season, coming to three communities including Penticton.

Founded in 2009, it reaches over 6,000 youth annually in 30 Indigenous communities in Western Canada.

For his part, Armstrong could not say enough about this opportunity for the children to experience nature.

“As a knowledge keeper for the nation, looking at the kids here, having them feel that goodness and closeness of the mountains,” he said. “So that the children will hear those voices of the mountains and to know like I do when I come back, they are still there.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

Cadence Squakin (centre) and her West Bench Elementary School classmates warm up by the fire in the Nickel Plate Lodge.

Cadence Squakin (centre) and her West Bench Elementary School classmates warm up by the fire in the Nickel Plate Lodge.

Sharing the voices of the mountains with Spirit North

Outma Sqilx’w Cultural School’s Javea Elliott competes in one of the cross country ski games.

Outma Sqilx’w Cultural School’s Javea Elliott competes in one of the cross country ski games.

Nine-year-old Aaliyah Pierre of Outma Sqilx’w Cultural School tries on the Olympic gold and silver medals belonging to Beckie Scott of Spirit North at Nickel Plate Nordic Centre during the season-ending celebration of the cross country ski program for Indigenous youth this week.                                Mark brett/western news

Nine-year-old Aaliyah Pierre of Outma Sqilx’w Cultural School tries on the Olympic gold and silver medals belonging to Beckie Scott of Spirit North at Nickel Plate Nordic Centre during the season-ending celebration of the cross country ski program for Indigenous youth this week. Mark brett/western news

Ncicn Kruger of Outma Sqilx’w Cultural School leads the charge in the snowshoe race.

Ncicn Kruger of Outma Sqilx’w Cultural School leads the charge in the snowshoe race.

Traditional and modern First Nations dancers performed and provided instruction for the students in the Spirit North program.                                Mark brett/western news

Traditional and modern First Nations dancers performed and provided instruction for the students in the Spirit North program. Mark brett/western news

Traditional First Nations dancer Levi Bent.

Traditional First Nations dancer Levi Bent.

Moonlight, 16, a student at Penticton Secondary School, performed her modern First Nations dances.

Moonlight, 16, a student at Penticton Secondary School, performed her modern First Nations dances.

Just Posted

The Wrong Turn Tavern in Keremeos is trying to lighten the mood during this pandemic. (Facebook photo)
Keremeos Tavern has fun with some not-so-fun restrictions

Sign posted at the Tavern warns if you don’t wear a mask you must strip naked

Christmas Lights
This nativity scene at the home of Paul Biro, organizer of the Summerland Drive-By Light Up, was just one of many parts of his elaborate display. (John Arendt - Summerland Review)
VIDEO: Summerland holiday lights on display

Drive-by light-up on Nov. 27 showed some of the many festive season decorations

Santa will meet kids on Zoom this year. (OSNS photo)
Visits with Santa go virtual this year in Penticton

Cherry Lane mall has partnered with OSNS to bring Old St. Nick into your living room via Zoom

Grey Man recovering after having his leg amputated. AlleyCats, Facebook.
Cat allegedly shot by pellet gun in Oliver has leg amputated

Kelowna Veterinary Hospital performed an emergency surgery to remove the leg

Penticton RCMP arrested a 33-year-old man they are calling a prolific offender Monday, Nov. 30, 2020. (Black Press file photo)
Police chase leads to arrest of Penticton ‘prolific offender’

Suspect with stolen bike worth $10,000 fled on foot, tracked by police dog

A B.C. Ambulance Service paramedic wearing a face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19 moves a stretcher outside an ambulance at Royal Columbia Hospital, in New Westminster, B.C., on Sunday, November 29, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. records deadliest weekend of COVID-19 pandemic with 46 deaths; more than 2,300 cases

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry provides COVID-19 update

Fossil finds at Mt. Stephen. (Photo: Sarah Fuller/Parks Canada)
Extreme hiking, time travel and science converge in the Burgess Shale

Climb high in the alpine and trace your family tree back millions of years – to our ocean ancestors

Join Rob Dinwoodie and bandmates for a Cowboy Christmas, Dec. 11 and 12 at Vernon and District Performing Arts Center. Seating is cabaret style on the stage for an intimate concert. (Contributed)
North Okanagan cowboys go virtual for Christmas

Cowboy Christmas streamed Dec. 11-25

Vernon is getting in the Christmas spirit with many homes decorating with lights and extras. (Caitlin Clow - Morning Star)
Christmas lights tour mapped out by Vernon realtor

More than 20 of the community’s best lit houses make up annual tradition

Kettle bells sit aligned in an indoor fitness studio. (PIxabay.com)
1 COVID-19 case at a B.C. fitness studio leads to 104 more infections, 6 school exposures

According to case data released by Fraser Health, one case of the novel coronavirus carries a big impact

Vehicles drive past a display thanking essential workers in Burnaby, B.C. on Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Marissa Tiel
B.C. changing COVID-19 case reporting as virus spread continues

Manual counting takes more time, leads to errors

Salmon Arm RCMP say some patrons have been harassing local businesses over mask requirements. (Lachlan Labere-Salmon Arm Observer)
Police urge respect after Salmon Arm businesses report being harassed over mask rules

Wearing of masks in businesses and public spaces is currently mandated by the province

Salmon Arm RCMP officers attended two public COVID-19 demonstrations held in Salmon Arm on Saturday, Nov. 28.  (File photo)
Organizer of Salmon Arm COVID-19 demonstration fined $2,000 by RCMP

Police said some participants weren’t aware of the public health order prohibiting gatherings

Black Press Media and BraveFace have come together to support children facing life-threatening conditions. Net proceeds from these washable, reusable, three-layer masks go to Make-A-Wish Foundation BC & Yukon.
Put on a BraveFace: Mask fundraiser helps make children’s wishes come true

From Black Press Media + BraveFace – adult, youth and kid masks support Make-A-Wish Foundation

Most Read